Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as Johnny and June Carter Cash, Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf, Cate Blanchett as (more or less) Bob Dylan — playing an iconic musician has been a successful route to awards attention for several actors in recent years. That may be the long-term goal for Tate Taylor's glossy-looking James Brown biopic “Get On Up,” but the more immediate goal suggested by the film's first trailer is launching 31-year-old leading man Chadwick Boseman to major-league stardom.
I don't envy any actor the challenge of channelling James Brown's unique performance charisma: the so-called Godfather of Soul was an electric, practically possessed stage presence whose appeal busted both genre and demographic limitations, and it'll take a portrayal of considerable invention and self-assurance to avoid coming off as a pale impersonation.
We know Boseman has the chops, and that he has form in playing American icons — he impressed last year as baseball legend Jackie Robinson in “42” — so he seems as qualified as anyone for the role. And the trailer suggests he's isn't skimping on effort or energy, even if the film itself seems to ticking all the standard prestige-biopic boxes. (A James Brown biopic scored by Thomas Newman seems a slight contradiction in terms, no?) I can't help thinking Brown's life merits a more jagged, dangerous filmmaker than Tate Taylor, director of “The Help,” but Universal is clearly hoping for a crossover hit here. (Like “The Help,” it's also a summer release, so if the audience turns up for it, the Oscar campaign will follow.)
At least Taylor's brought Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer along for the ride — there are flashes of strong work from both women here, but this is otherwise packaged as The Chadwick Boseman Show. Do you think he has it? Check out the trailer below, and share your thoughts in the comments.