Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Quick Review.

There’s a certain very cruel irony to the film that convinces this viewer of the power of Chadwick Boseman. This writers impression was that he was a solid actor. That said he did not have a breakout role with quite the same level of an emotional wallop when compared to contemporary and former co-star Michael B Jordan in Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station. Knowing what the world knows about his struggles now it’s hard to see the man as anything other than a hero on multiple literal and figurative levels. He thankfully went out on a performance that showcases his true brilliance in what is otherwise a relatively dry and stagy drama. Co-leads the film with Viola Davis as she plays in 1920s jazz musician with the narrative focusing on the interpersonal relationships in conflicts that come up during a recording session. Based on a play by August Wilson the film edition falls into many of the traps present in Denzel Washington screen version of Wilsons Fences. Is the material worthy and well-intentioned? Absolutely. Are there potentially interesting themes ripe for discussion? Yes. Are the performanceS committed to delivering the material effectively? Definitely. That said much as this style of conversation piece may be more effective on stage but when filmed it comes across as incredibly dry with a lot of the conversation running together as if it’s one amorphous blob. On-screen it lacks the spark that Regina King and Kamp Powers brought to the film version of One Night in Miami (the exception to the rule when it comes to these sorts of dramas.) Boseman’s powerhouse performance as a temperament trumpet player is utterly magnetic. It’s the kind of turn only possible when a fantastic performer is given material that can showcase their range effectively on multiple different levels. Much as Davis provides solid support in the title role it’s Bozeman that makes this screen edition entirely worth experiencing. If there’s any justice in the world there should be a strong case for him posthumously winning every Best Actor prize going. It’s an extraordinary swan song even if the film contained within it doesn’t do much to elevate itself beyond Boseman’s work.

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