herald

Monday 5 December 2016

Not all black and white in James Brown's life

genre biopic

I'M A BIG fan of biopics - and for whatever reason ones featuring African-American icons are among the best. Maybe their lives, combating poverty and prejudice, are just that bit more dramatic, but there's been a slew of classics.

The Tina Turner lifestory What's Love Got To Do With It; baseball epic 42, about the career of Jackie Robinson; the Ray Charles story in Ray; and Will Smith's Ali, are all watchable again and again.

Now larger-than-life musician James Brown gets the big-screen treatment, and despite a few patches, it's another must-see. As with all biopics about musicians, there's plenty of childhood misery, drug abuse and egos running rampant.

And so it is here, as we're introduced to James (Chadwick Boseman) as he's being raised in the woods by his parents who have a marriage filled with financial struggles and physical abuse.

As a teen, James is jailed for theft, which inadvertently launches him on the path to a musical career.

Fame later follows as James's group, The Famous Flames, upstage The Rolling Stones, and a legend is born.

But a biopic wouldn't be the same without band fallouts, and all of James's crew quit over time as the ego gets too big for the co-stars.

And there's marital tensions as James has a child, Teddy, with his first wife Velma, until the inevitable divorce. Second wife Dee-Dee is attacked by the singer for wearing a revealing outfit, while Brown's relationship with the wider black community is at times strained, forcing him to record a "black and proud" single. There's plenty of interest here - and why wouldn't there by, given the character portrayed, as the good and bad and the image are all focused on.

What stands out most though is Boseman's performance as Brown - a trickier figure to capture on screen than the easier-going Ray Charles or Tina Turner. The only problem? At two and a half hours, your backside will be aching as it attempts to get on up off the couch.

DVD extras: deleted/extended scenes, full-length songs and a look at how Brown has inspired generations after him.

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