“Get On Up”
I graduated from college in 1969, and the social ramifications of that period changed me forever. JFK died in 1963, with Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy gunned down in 1968. Then there was Vietnam, with 50,000 young Americans needlessly dying. The Beatles arrived in 1964 followed by the British Invasion, and the Rolling Stones, The Byrds, et al., became a part of our lives.
The advent of rock and roll in the 1950s was controlled entirely on TV by white singers and a white audience. However, Berry Gordy’s Motown sound helped to merge black and white teenagers in a fashion that spilled over into the civil rights movement. And then along came James Brown.
Director Tate Taylor has done us all a favor with his biographical film about Brown’s life. The film flashes back and forth from his birth in rural Georgia in the 1930s to his performing in sold-out venues in Paris in the 1970s, and the movie leaves you a vivid picture of who he was and how he got there.
Brown’s childhood was horrible, as he was abandoned by both his mother and father. He was raised by a caring woman played by Octavia Spencer. It was there that he discovered his love of music while watching religious revivals, and a match lit a musical bomb inside of him.
He was sentenced to a lengthy term in prison at age 17 after stealing a suit from a parked car, and he ended up befriended by a singer named Bobby Byrd. Played wonderfully by Nelsan Ellis, he became enchanted after listening to Brown sing behind bars. He helped obtain Brown’s release by convincing his parents to welcome him into their home.
Brown was a human lightning rod that sizzled with electricity. Combining a voice that hit octaves heard nowhere else with a flamboyant dance that was as original as it was stunning, he established himself as an icon in the music world from the early 1960s through his death in 2006.
My wife and I have a new foreign exchange student from Saudi Arabia, and I took him to this film and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which was my second viewing. (I loved it even more this time.) As I watched Chris Pratt dancing to 1970s music, I couldn’t help but think that he was simply reflecting a time when James Brown and others inspired all of us to dance.
While there are a number of very good supporting performances, this movie begins and ends with Chadwick Boseman’s performance as Brown. He impersonates him without a flaw, and his dancing and singing are monstrously effective. It was like bringing Brown back to life.
Boseman’s creation is a work of art. He is even more powerful here than he was playing Jackie Robinson in “42” (2013), and we are destined to see a lot from him in the future.
“Papa’s got a brand new bag.” Sing it, James!
Filled with magnificent, understated performances from Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace, “The Drop” is a splendid, winsome tribute to the late James Gandolfini. It captures what Gandolfini did best, namely playing a roguish thug with a bitter sense of humor.
With a screenplay by Dennis Lehane based upon his short story “Animal Rescue,” it tells the tale of a Brooklyn bar robbery gone wrong in every respect. Cousin Marv, the prior owner, runs it with his cousin, Bob, after his career had started to lose its luster years earlier. The title of the film comes from the fact that local underworld figures, largely Chechnyan immigrants, use the bar as a “drop” for payments from local patrons who never learned that gambling is a losing man’s profession.
As Marv starts to squirm, you are left wondering whether he is a victim or a co-conspirator. Regardless, Gandolfini plays to his strength, and he thankfully makes it easy to forget his miscast performance in the recent “Enough Said” (2013).
However, the center of the film is found in the relationship developing between Bob and Nadia, two loners who meet when Bob finds a wounded pit bull pup in a garbage can on her property. As these two working-class people struggle to find any meaning in life, it is marvelous to watch them interrelate around caring for this little dog.
No actor in recent history can match Hardy’s exceptional performances in films since 2010. If you doubt it, hunt him down as Tommy Conlon in “Warrior” (2011); Forrest Bondurant in “Lawless” (2012); the evil Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012), and this year’s devastating solo performance in “Locke.”
Rapace can nearly match Hardy, and you need to see her playing Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series (2009). In addition, don’t miss her contributions in both “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (2011), and “Prometheus” (2012).
There are other strong performances in this fine film, most notably from John Ortiz and Matthias Schoenaerts. Ortiz plays a Brooklyn detective who lacks the facts to prove anything while being smart enough to understand everything. Schoenaerts plays the brutal ex-boyfriend of Nadia. He haunts her life, and he lives on a reputation of having previously killed a young man. You know that with or without the help of the police, a day of reckoning will arrive for everyone by the end of the film.
This movie dances in the same league as “Shutter Island” (2010), “Gone Baby Gone” (2007), and “Mystic River” (2003), all based on Lehane’s talented pen. There are no good guys, and tension builds throughout the film. When you watch Gandolfini’s last scene, he has the look of a man facing death with a twinkle in his eye. It’s as if he was saying, “I’ve enjoyed the visit.”•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.