Reviewed by: Katrina Davis
|Featuring:||Chadwick Boseman … James Brown
Nelsan Ellis … Bobby Byrd
Dan Akroyd … Ben Bart
Viola Davis … Susie Brown
Octavia Spencer … Aunt Honey
Lennie James … Joe Brown
Fred Melamed … Syd Nathan
Craig Robinson … Maceo Parker
Jill Scott … DeeDee Brown
Josh Hopkins … Ralph Bass
Brandon Smith … Little Richard
Tika Sumpter … Yvonne Fair
|Director:||Tate Taylor—“The Help” (2011), “Winter's Bone” (2010)|
“The James Brown Story”
James Joseph Brown (May 3, 1933—Dec. 25, 2006) was born to Susie and Joseph Brown. Viola Davis plays James Brown’s mother. Lennie Davis portrays Joseph “Joe” Brown the father of James.
This story brings “super heavy funk” to life. These are the words of James Brown, who I call, the genius. As a lover of music, I was totally entertained. Actor Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson in “42”) does not act like James Brown; he becomes James Brown. Boseman brings Brown on stage all the way—with a commanding presence. I feel as though I have witnessed a live performance of James Brown.
James Brown’s life begins with both parents. Viola Davis portrays Susie Brown with pure authenticity. I never once doubted her performance. The intensity jumps off the screen, and I felt her helplessness and pain. Lennie James portrays father Joseph “Joe” Brown who brings unexpected violence and tragedy to his family. Their lives are never the same. God desires us to train up our children in the way they should go, and when they are old, they will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6 KJV).
The care of a very young James Brown is transferred to Aunt Honey (played with emotion by Octavia Spencer). She loves and renames James to Little Junior. Aunt Honey begins to notice his special spirit. Aunt Honey has a scandalous business. She pays Little Junior to solicit clients for her business. This behavior should be seen as juvenile delinquent behavior. Although Aunt Honey speaks positively about Little Junior’s spirit, she contradicts herself by exposing him to a lifestyle of sexual immorality.
James Brown manages to survive the adolescent years only to be caught stealing. The law prevents his ability to move forward with his life without assistance. The kindness of a family jumps in to make a heartwarming show of love and support.
Once James Brown is faced with the opportunity to hit the stage, he seizes the moment. The band only needs to hear the word go. Their performance is electric. The crowd is supportive of the sound they hear. Unbeknown to them, they are watching history in the making. The quality of the band has to be recognized as superior. I was rooting for them to play their hearts out. Humble beginnings did not stop their drive to achieve success. The band was actually taking over Little Richard’s stage—icon to icon, recognizing their greatness unfolding. Brandon Smith plays Little Richard. I did not have to guess who was making that piano talk.
Flashbacks create the feeling of being on a roller coaster, riding back and forth through The Godfather’s life. At a very young age, Little Junior witnesses a devastating trauma that was unfortunately too familiar to the African American community. This trauma I am sure was a lasting memory.
Although the Godfather had musical genius, he also had a disturbing emotional, angry side that brought his wife harm. Dee Dee Brown (Jill Scott) suffers from domestic violence at the hands of her husband. Smooth and gentle acting creates a shocking hit to the gut when she is attacked. God does not condone violence. The theater became silent as the audience came to terms with the severity of the attack.
So many characters unfold in this movie that do not require any announcement. Famous musical icons are seen in the movie alongside James Brown’s journey. Tariq Trotter plays Pee Wee Ellis (“Superbad”). Aloe Blacc plays Nafloyd Scott (The Famous Flames guitarist). Keith Robinson plays Baby Roy. Nick Eversman plays the infamous Mick Jagger (who went on to produce this film). The gorgeous and stunning Tika Sumpter plays singer Yvonne Fair with such sensuality, I was about to pray for the brothers. Ms. Yvonne can walk on a bus! Craig Robinson plays Maceo Parker.
Aunjanue Ellis plays soul singer Vicki Anderson (widow of Bobby Byrd, Brown’s right-hand man). There is something special about an actress that delivers a performance you understand, and she did not utter a word. Her closing scene was phenomenal. Nelsan Ellis plays her husband Bobby Byrd (original founder of The Famous Flames), and I say Bravo!!! When you can watch a character and hang onto every word and emotion they bring, then the ticket was well worth the fee.
The character Ben Bart (founder of the Universal Attractions Agency) is played by Dan Akroyd. Bart and James Brown were partners in success. Their relationship made history, changing the order of the established music industry.
A movie ticket gives you access to see how The Godfather of Soul created his musical masterpieces. Hit after hit was performed with precision and excellence. The dancers choreographed to bring audience attention to another level. Even the instruments became a part of the cast! Lastly, the performances would not be complete without the execution of the on-stage fashion.
The spiritual issues of concern in this PG-13 film include a brothel scene, one sex scene with clothing, racism, gunshots, whiskey and alcohol use, gambling, provocative dancing, domestic violence, a hanging in the woods, and foul language, including 1 f-word, s-words (11), hell (10), damn (5), “Good God” (2), OMG (2), jack*ss, bullsh*t, nigger, hunky white hoe down, and the white devil.
Overall, I enjoyed this documentary style soundtrack to the life of “The Godfather of Soul.”
Violence: Moderate to heavy / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Heavy
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.