'Get On Up' chooses to tell the James Brown story in non linear fashion, instead switching time periods in regular intervals which, offering glimpses, significant moments in the often turbulent and troubled life of the soul singer, trying to explain the workings of a black man, born in abject poverty in the plainly racist American south of 1933, who rose not only to become one of the greatest living entertainers of all time, practically inventing a new genre in music, namely funk, building an empire in the process, but had his fair share of misery and downfall. What could make such a man who seem to have it all, talent ,money, fame and adulation endure such demons beneath the surface of his soul? This seems to be the main message of the film. We first encounter a drug fuelled Brown in 1988, armed and angry. Talking straight to camera, he informs us with conviction, "You may not know me, but every record you got has got a piece of me in it." From here we are transported to see a little infant JB running around a broken down shack in the backwoods of South Carolina. It is here we discover the broken relationship with his parents, the wayward mother (Viola Davis) who would abandon Brown at a young tender age and the tyrannical father (Lennie James) who would eventually leave the youth with his grandmother (Octavia Spencer) to raise, albeit in a brothel.
Several key scenes struck a note such as the emotional moment when Brown was confronted backstage at the Apollo Theatre, after a successful show, by the mother who had left him years before. It was quite obvious, even with his huge ego on display, he still retained the pain of loss of her departure. A marvellous moment Brown's show stopping performance on The T.A.M.I. (Teen Age Music International) TV show in 1964, with The Rolling Stones as headliners, much to the annoyance of JB are included, along with an extraordinary recreation of the concert James Brown and his backing band, The J.B.'s did in Chicago, the very next night following the tragic assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, much against the wishes of the authorities, fearing a riot. While his popularity was soaring, talking to Presidents and visiting soldiers in Vietnam, Brown's own personal life was at times in turmoil, his inner demons causing him to treat all around him in certain situations in a hostile manner. His band members had to obey his orders at all times and his women better do the same. Meanwhile his output of infectious funky music churned out classic after classic. He was determined to record and play the music as he heard it in his head, believing rhythm was the key, in effect treating all the instruments as a drum.
The performances of the whole cast of 'Get On Up' are sharp and entertaining. James Brown fans will love the music which is played throughout. Noteworthy is the fact some of the sounds heard are taken from JB shows that have never been released, thanks in part to the Brown Estate. In all a film worthy of the legendary singer with a simply amazing central performance by Chadwick Boseman as 'Soul Brother No. 1'