Review: “Get On Up” – The James Brown Story

At the beginning of the James Brown biopic, Get On Up, a strung-out Brown (Chadwick Boseman) walks into an insurance seminar in 1988 with a shotgun and causes a scene because someone used his private bathroom.  Just moments later, Brown and his band are seen flying into Vietnam in the 60s, during the height of his popularity, to entertain the troops and their plane takes enemy fire.  To further complicate things, James then says how influential he is right into the camera.  So, in about the first twenty minutes, there are two extremes, a two-decade time jump, and the breakdown of the fourth wall.  Clearly, the film can go anywhere.  And it does.

Playing more like an episodic mini-series than a movie, the 138 minute film is broken down into sections like, “1949, The Music Box,” “1964, The Famous Flames,” etc.  Professionally speaking, some of Mr. Brown’s career highlights captured in the film are his Boston, Massachusetts, performance right after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the recording of his iconic Live at the Apollo album in 1963, and his upstaging of the Rolling Stones on The T.A.M.I. Show.  All of these events, among others depicted, are worthy of great attention, but not all of them are given the treatment they deserve.  It just goes to show that the James Brown story can’t truly be contained in the confines of a single motion picture.

Additionally, the film goes back numerous times to scenes from Brown’s childhood (the young James Brown is played by twins Jordan and Jamarion Scott) where he lived in extreme poverty, experienced racism in the Jim Crow South, was abandoned by his mother (Viola Davis), abused by his father (Lennie James), and raised by his Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer) in a brothel.  These scenes are critical because, while they don’t in any way excuse Brown’s repugnant behavior as a grown man, they do help  shed light on some of his many conflicting actions.

Watching Boseman as James Brown is a captivating experience.  His performance transcends one of mere imitation, and finds him truly becoming “The Godfather of Soul.”  With the exception of singing [the original recordings were superbly remixed by the film’s Executive Producer, Mick Jagger], everything is there: the gravelly voice, the flawless dance moves, the mannerisms, and, of course, the attitude.  Another actor who deserves great praise is Nelsan Ellis, of True Blood fame, who plays Brown’s close friend and bandmate, Bobby Byrd.  Fortunately, for the sake of Ellis’ contribution, he is one of the few characters that James really connects with and so he is constant through most of the film.  Dan Aykroyd, who appeared with the real James Brown in both of The Blues Brothers movies, also gives a memorable supporting performance as Ben Bart, the president of Universal Attractions.

Get On Up is not unlike the band that James performed with.  They’re both lively productions that are fine tuned to perfection, but inevitably struggle at times because they’re trying to do so much at once.  To the film’s credit, it makes a deliberate effort to shy away from linear story-telling and doesn’t underestimate the audience.  However, it still fails to come together to cohesively tell the story of “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” for the masses. It does though fantastically depict a tortured soul who found redemption through music and helped change the world around him in the process.  And for that, it’s definitely worth the price of admission!

Overall Rating: 7.5/10

What did you think of Get On Up?  Do you agree with the review?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section!

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  • Immortal

    Good review might have to check this out…now why can’t the rest of the articles on here be written this clearly?

    • ZUBU

      Bro the answer has to be copy and paste from another site! We all know they give grade schoolers candy to write their articles. I wrote better than most of their writers when I was in the 4th. grade… SMH

      • Immortal

        Damn man I was hoping….lolz

    • Guest

      Thank you for the kind words about my writing. I spent a lot of time on this review to make sure it was very clear and accurate.

      • Shad Reed

        P.S. I, Shad Reed, am the writer of this review and made the “Guest” comment above – not sure why there was a snafu with the post and it was labeled that way.

      • Immortal

        Do whatever you feel you need to do to get a job on this site. Someone needs to take charge and teach others the proper use of plain English. I think you could do it.

      • MarilynRStroup

        I just got


      • Celz

        One of the best reviews I have seen in a long time anywhere.. Great style, honest and real.. I just saw the movie and share your sentiments. Great movie but they won’t be winning any Oscars lol

      • Shad Reed

        Thanks; I’m really glad you enjoyed the review. Hope all is well and take care.

  • John Q. Public

    Spike Lee posted this link on his Instagram sh*tting on the film, calling it racist.
    I cant post the link tho its against the rules I guess

    • Black Avatars

      That’s because Spike Lee was the original director of the film and was later fired.

  • Killuminati

    I just watched the movie 42 with Chadwick Boseman and was pretty impressed. I will definitely watch this movie as well. For a young actor to portray 2 icons in back to back movies is an accomplishment in itself.


    Chad Boswick might did good in “42” but far as james brown he show me nothing ive followed james brown career since 1962 there are entertainer out that can just about imitate the people they admire Bruno Mars can do a good hand and foot action of james brown Micheal jackson show a little.and Prince tried but james brown was a showman like he said if you ain’t got no soul then i i lend you some the movie was choppy and told nothing of james brown i didnt enjoy the movie .If Spike lee was going to do the movie i think he should still do the movie and show james brown in his true light and use the original players and singers Vicki Anderson,Martha High/Danny Ray ect.