Well, let’s get the main point out of the way first. Chadwick Boseman does a phenomenal James Brown. He has to play Brown as a young man in the fifties and then all the way up to his elder statesman role in the nineties and it’s really remarkable the way he disappears into the role. The direction is also quite a bit better than I thought it would be; Taylor eschews straight chronology for a structure that hops all around through time and space and it generally works really, really well. The musical scenes are pretty well good to fantastic. The best sequences are a rehearsal in which the band breaks down Cold Sweat and a lengthy live performance in 1971 in Paris. The music is, of course, wonderful and Boseman just really kills it in these scenes. He may not be doing the singing, but he’s found an amazing groove as a dancer. But the film isn’t perfect by a stretch. The script isn’t very good in the personal drama stuff; it’s a string of clichés at its worst and, save for one wonderful scene between Boseman’s Brown and Nelsan Ellis’ Bobby Byrd after the Paris show, only fair at best. It’s a good thing that the film ends with a song; it’s a song that ties up some emotional beats that the film has been hitting and the song says it far better than any scene in this script ever could. And the script knows how to raise issues without exploring them, which is annoying. There’s one single scene of Brown hitting his mistress and it’s a good scene, but it just whips by and the issue of his domestic abuse is never raised again. It probably deserved more than twenty seconds; if that’s all you’re going to do, why do it at all? And sometimes the director’s attempts at “meaningful” symbolism fall really flat. It’s a film that’s good, but could have been great. When the scenes work, they really work; standouts include the sequences mentioned above and a heart-stopping boxing match. When they don’t, they’re never exactly horrible, just mediocre and dull. It’s a pretty good genre piece; a biopic, I mean, but it never transcends that to become something better. It’s no Walk the Line. Still, I’d call it good. I give it a conditional recommendation. If it looks like the kind of thing you’ll like, give it a shot. If it doesn’t, don’t bother; it’s not going to change your mind. 3 stars.
tl;dr – Boseman’s remarkable performance, some creative direction and phenomenal music sequences elevate a dull, shallow and very average script. A solid enough biopic, but nothing more. 3 stars.