Chadwick Boseman gives a swaggering, soulful performance in this most delectably funky and fresh of biopics. Get On Up, as directed by The Help‘s Tate Taylor, is an energetic and eclectic blast, packed with toe-tapping musical numbers and a groove all its own. Exploring the legendary James Brown both as a tremendously talented musician and as an extremely troubled man, it’s refreshingly free from clichés and more than happy to blaze its own, fascinating trail.
The film is different immediately, opening on an older, wearier Brown than any fan of the musician would think to visualize, menacing people in a strip mall with a shotgun. Their perceived slight against him? One of them, he believes, used his private bathroom without his consent. Get On Up doesn’t shy away from just how extreme an individual Brown was, or how brutishly he tormented the people around him, whether they were employees, friends or even family. Remarkably, as reverent a biopic as Taylor’s film occasionally is, it doesn’t turn a blind eye to the madman behind the musical genius.
That willingness to look Brown straight in the eye starts with Boseman, whose simply stunning performance marks the arrival of one of the next great Hollywood actors. The relatively unknown performer is so extraordinarily convincing as Brown that one can only say that he has impossibly managed to tap into the very same limitless energy that propelled the musician forward and then let that same lightning course through his veins. The fire in his eyes, the confident strut in his step, the restless quivering of his entire body, the sexy power of his distinctive voice – Boseman nails every nuance. This year at the Oscars, I thought Selma helmer Ava DuVernay’s snub for Best Director was the most egregious oversight the Academy made. After seeing Get On Up, I know now that I was wrong – Boseman is bold, brilliant and utterly breathtaking in the role.
Though Boseman is Get On Up‘s most electrifying component, the rest of the film soars, mostly due to its cinematic daring. Appropriately for a biopic of a career risk-taker, the movie isn’t afraid to dance around with time and tone, zipping back and forth throughout Brown’s life to create an edgier, richer account of what made the Godfather of Soul such an indelible yet troubled icon.
Taylor also breaks down barriers between us viewers and his subject, allowing Brown to break the fourth wall with his same mischievous sparkle intact. It’s chances like that which set Get On Up apart from other, stodgier biopic fare. This is a film that feels as thrillingly alive, eclectic and high-octane as its larger-than-life subject, but one that doesn’t fail to highlight the strengths, weaknesses and incredible complexities of a flesh-and-blood man revered as a megastar during his life. It moves to its own, funky beat more than anyone ever could have hoped a biopic about someone as truly unparalleled as James Brown would – and that’s something worth celebrating.
On Blu-Ray, Get On Up boasts a terrific, vibrant 1080p transfer that is filled with bright colors and crystal-clear images. Detail is stunning throughout, from the most minute fibers on a character’s clothes to the glistening sweat on Brown’s brow, and there are absolutely no problems to report with banding, crush or any of the other issues that so often plague botched Blu-Ray releases. This is an excellent, reference-quality transfer from Universal.
Absolutely no complaints about the riveting, absolutely crucial DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack either. Get On Up is a film utterly reliant on superior sound, and although it’s easy to question the decision not to go with a Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack, Universal has absolutely delivered the goods with this audio package. The track is giant, engaging and fully immersive, taking tremendous advantage of every possible effect to construct an intricate stage of sound. Gunshots are given the jarring punch to make you jump in your seat, and the richness of the musical numbers is just extraordinary, imparting not only the power of Brown’s performances but also the aching soul he put into each and every one of them. Smaller, background effects are flawlessly implemented throughout, and dialogue is cleanly presented. It’s a sublime and, again, reference-quality track.
There are a ton of special features on this release too, including:
- Audio Commentary
- Deleted/Extended/Alternate Scenes (15:21)
- Full Song Performances:
- Out of Sight (2:38)
- Steal Away (Steal Away to Jesus) (1:39)
- I’ll Go Crazy (2:20)
- Cold Sweat (2:47).
- Extended Song Performances:
- “Please, Please, Please” — Recording Session & Montage (4:09)
- “Please, Please, Please” — Live Performance (1:52)
- “Say It Loud I’m Black and I’m Proud” (1:26)
- Long Journey to the Screen (3:58)
- Chadwick Boseman: Meet Mr. James Brown (11:25)
- The Get on Up Family (6:27)
- On Stage with the Hardest Working Man (6:25)
- The Founding Father of Funk (13:19)
- Tate Taylor’s Master Class (6:57)
Tate Taylor leads the commentary, looking at particular scenes and breaking them down for viewers while recalling the challenges of some moments and sharing his insights into the strengths of the film’s performances, sets and tone. The deleted/extended/alternate scenes contain some interesting stuff, like a bit with Mick Jagger and another involving Brown behind bars, but some fluffier scenes as well. The full song performances and extended song performances are, of course, divine to behold. It was a great idea to include them for fans of the film who just can’t get enough of Brown’s music.
“Long Journey to the Screen” briefly examines the process of getting the project moving, while “Chadwick Boseman: Meet Mr. James Brown” is entirely devoted to talking about Boseman’s extensive work to play Brown, as well as his intriguing reluctance to do the film at first (seeing as he was just getting done with another biopic, Jackie Robinson pic 42).
“The Get On Up Family” is a natural follow-up, centering on supporting players in the film, while “On Stage with the Hardest Working Man” recounts some of the bigger moments from Brown’s life that the makers of Get On Up set out to capture. “The Founding Father of Funk” more directly looks at Brown, both as a musical icon and as an influential figure in black culture in the latter half of the 20th century. Finally, “Tate Taylor’s Master Class” gets toes tapping, exploring why Taylor felt capturing the manic energy of Brown’s dancing was so important to the film.
All in all, this is a stellar Blu-Ray release, put together with flawless video and audio as well as a broad selection of extras, and given how superb Get On Up is in its treatment of James Brown, there’s nothing that should stand in the way of picking up this film. Boseman is Oscar-worthy as Brown, and Get On Up pulsates with such an infectious energy that, despite its risky structuring, the pic works immensely.
Powered by Chadwick Boseman in a revelatory, riotous performance that marks him as one of the most talented people working in Hollywood, Get On Up has a funky fresh beat all its own, telling the James Brown story with artistry and energy.