He went by many names. Mr. Dynamite. The Hardest Working Man In Show Business, Soul Brother #1 and of course, his given name, James Brown. Now Brown gets his well-deserved biopic Get On Up. It covers the course of his life from childhood through to his heyday, including growing up in abject poverty, the abandonment of both parents and the musical talent that emerged from a very early age.
Like Ray, the biopic deals with the less glossy sides of Brown’s life – from domestic violence to his treatment of the band members that helped made him famous. As played by relative newcomer Chadwick Boseman, who also portrayed Jackie Robinson in 42, James’s character is given an emotional heft that underpins his musical accomplishments and brings a deeper substance to his story.
Get On Up is also about Brown’s friendship with musician Bobby Byrd, played by True Blood’s Nelsan Ellis, who, if the movie is to be believed, may be the only person aside from his children that Brown every truly loved. Like the woefully underrated movie Talk To Me, which dealt with the friendship of legendary D.C. radio personality Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene and radio executive Dewey Hughes, it’s a bromance of sorts that reveals a lot about both the insecurities and motivations of both men.
In that respect, Get on Up works as much as a 2-hour movie about a 50 year career ever can. Brown was a prolific musician who not only ran one of the tightest bands in the history of music, he, like Ray Charles, also grasped the importance of ownership early on. That and his equally legendary tightfistedness helped Brown amass a fortune that is still being fought over.