Get On Up

As an artist, an icon, and a person, James Brown is such an elusive quarry that no biopic writer could hope to do more than circle around him—which is exactly how brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (Fair Game) approach the singer in this straightforward but highly entertaining feature. The story is framed by Brown’s notorious 1988 drug bust in Georgia following a high-speed car chase, yet within this frame the writers also loop back and forth in time to consider Brown’s impoverished youth, his cunning ascent of the R&B charts, his oscillating political views, and his restless pursuit of the ever-more-funky rhythms that are still being sampled today. Mercifully, the writers downplay his three marriages (and long history of spousal abuse) to focus instead on his friendship with backup singer Bobby Byrd, who somehow navigated Brown’s titanic ego for more than 20 years. Tate Taylor (The Help) directed; with Chadwick Boseman (as Brown), Nelsan Ellis (as Byrd), Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer.