In the 1930’s in America’s deep south, James Joseph Brown (played by Chadwick Boseman) is born in Georgia. He’s raised in the forest by his battling parents, Susie (by Viola Davis) and Joe (by Lennie James) then when his abusive father joins the Army, James moves in with his brothel-keeper Aunt Honey (by Octavia Spencer). He starts to go to church and enjoys the gospel choir – his love of music is born. At 17 he steals a suit and ends up in prison where he makes friends with Bobby Byrd (by Nelsan Ellis). The Byrd family supports James after his release and he joins Bobby’s vocal group “The Avons” who become the “Famous Flames” with James as their lead singer. His manager, Ben Bart (by Dan Aykroyd) persuades the band to take a gig in place of The Rolling Stones and his career starts to take off. He and his band perform in Vietnam to support the troops and their show is hugely popular. He marries Velma and has a son, Teddy, then he marries Dee Dee (by Jill Scott), but like most other things he attempts, due to his fiery temperament his relationships fail. He tries to manage the band, but this doesn’t work either. His life lurches from one self-destructive drama to another, often involving violence and usually ending in disaster. Somehow through it all though, he becomes an advocate for the African-American community and his music prevails. He becomes known as the “Godfather of Soul”.
I found this movie really hard going. I guess the story itself is interesting but I found it really hard to get my head around it because the production is so hap-hazard. The scenes jump from history to current and back again and this gets hard to watch. At over two and a half hours it’s a bit indulgent of the director too. Having said all that, though, there’s no doubt that the performances are good – Chadwick Boseman does a great job at his depiction of James Brown – the music and dancing are well done. Some of the re-telling of rock’n’roll history is good to see and overall it’s informative about James Brown’s life. However, it’s nowhere near in the same league as Tate Taylor’s previous movie “The Help”. Obviously, there are a lot of other people who don’t agree with me about this as the movie won the 2014 African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) award for Best Ensemble and Chadwick Boseman has been nominated in the 2015 Black Reel Awards for his performance as Outstanding Actor with Nelsan Ellis nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor. Also, in the 2015 Screen Actors Guild Awards the stunt team has been nominated for Outstanding Action Performance. Oh well .. I guess that’s part of the rich tapestry of life – we all have different views.
Made in 2014. Directed by Tate Taylor