Chadwick Boseman Films
21 Bridges (2019) - 7.5
Chadwick Boseman's death came as a kick in the gut to people all over the
world. In a year in which so many have died, his death still stands out as
tragic. He stood tall taking on roles that were black icons - Jackie Robinson,
Thurgood Marshall, James Brown and creating a fictional one that stirred
great pride, The Black Panther. He had to do right by all of them and he
did. But I also realized in looking at his filmography that outside of his
character as the Black Panther, I have not seen any others of his. So time
to do so.
21 Bridges was produced (Boseman was co-producer) after his fame as the Black
Panther and it is an interesting choice. He brings that same quiet dignity
to his role as a policeman in New York City in this very taut, fairly violent
policier that is perfectly paced and very well edited. It kept me on my toes
for much of it as it swerves back and forth between Andre Davis (Boseman)
trying to chase down the cop killers and the cop killers trying desperately
to get away with the entire police force after them, many wanting outright
to kill them. And maybe Davis as well. The only thing holding it back is
a sense of familiarity - that we have been here before - that we know exactly
where this film is headed. And we do. But that doesn't stop it from being
a good watch - well acted, good action choreography and the wonderful city
of New York that is put to good purpose.
Davis is the son of a heroic cop who was killed some years ago and the Blue
is his life. Internal Investigations is looking into his record as having
shot a few too many criminals - he says I never shot first. Two low life
robbers break into a restaurant after they have been tipped off that the
owner is storing 30 kilos of cocaine. Imagine their surprise when there is
300 kilos. Something is very wrong here and they pick up 50 kilos and head
out - but run into cops coming in. In the ensuing shootout they kill eight
cops with their Uzis - and escape. Davis is put on the case and shuts down
the city (21 bridges) and the manhunt is all hands on deck and full speed
ahead. You have to put a little cynicism aside that the cops are this good
- but not that some of them are corrupt as hell. Also, in the cast is Sienna
Miller who is assigned to him and J.K. Simmons as a Captain. The two baddies
who are terrific are Stephan James and Taylor Kitsch who manage to make these
killers into real people as they stick together and watch out for one another.
But the cops are closing in.
Marshall (2017) - 7.5
That would be Thurgood Marshall. Marshall is one of the great men of the
Civil Rights movement and then he was on the Supreme Court for 24 years.
Before his rise to the Supreme Court he argued 32 civil rights cases in front
of the Supreme Court and won 29 of them; the most famous being Brown v. Board
of Education. He founded the legal arm of the NAACP and became a sort of
Have Gun Will Travel as he was sent to defend innocent blacks accused wrongfully
due to racial injustice around the country. How do you approach doing a film
biography of a man who is such an icon, such a revered American? A mini-series
might be best to cover so much territory or you pick one moment in his life
that exemplifies who he was and who he was to become. The filmmakers - director
Reginald Hudlin - decide to go with the latter option and they create a film
that not only speaks to who he was - confident, righteous, proud, angry,
eloquent, smart - but do it in a frame that is a terrifically good courtroom
drama. All based on a true story from 1940.
Marshall (in a wonderfully controlled performance from Chadwick Boseman)
is sent by the NAACP to Connecticut to defend a black man (Sterling Brown)
of raping a white woman (Kate Hudson). Because Marshall is from out of state,
he has to work the case with a local lawyer - a Jewish man, Sam Freidman
(Josh Gad) who had only worked on civil cases. Usually Marshall would be
able to handle the courtroom lawyering but a clearly prejudiced judge (James
Cromwell) rules that only Friedman can speak. The prosecuting lawyer is played
by Dan Stevens, who often seems to get stuck playing elite dicks. There are
a few twists along the way and it is a good tense story with excellent acting
all around - even from Gad who can drive me nuts at times with his overacting.
Marshall and Freidman are often at odds because Freidman feels representing
a black man will ruin his career in this town and Marshall who feels like
he has to speak for more than his client but to America.
With all that is going on right now, this feels important. History is something
that we need reminders of all the time. In the end credits the film mentions
that Freidman became a civil rights lawyer and we know what happened to Marshall.
People likely will argue that the film should not be sharing time between
Freidman and Marshall - that here we go again with the white guy having
to be a big part of a the black story - some validity to that - but its a
true story - and I think it actually adds to the power of Marshall - that
he could drag this initially resentful man into a righteous cause that he
eventually recognizes as his own - as all of ours.
Message from the King (2016) - 7.0
If you come out whole from the poverty stricken, gang infested streets of
Cape Flats in South Africa, you are battle tested, battle ready. Not too
much is going to scare you. Which comes in handy when King arrives in Los
Angeles to look for his sister who he hasn't heard from. Los Angeles, land
of classic noir and to me this film felt like a modern stab at an updated
one. The underbelly of L.A. where everything smells of rot and everyone you
touch is corrupt, fetid or broken. Where human flesh is just another currency.
Drugs, girls and young boys are all available if you know the right people.
And so is cleaning up messes. You just have to know who to call. And have
the money to pay them. The rich high in the hills making a pact with the
devil below to get what they need.
Chadwick Boseman portrays King who arrives in L.A. from South Africa with
$600 in his pocket, a return ticket in a week and an address where his sister
last was. He tells immigration that he is a cab driver back home. Cab drivers
must be made of grit and steel in Cape Flats. But she is gone and no one
seems to know where she went. Involved in a rough crowd. King turns into
Lew Archer or Phillip Chandler as he tracks her from one person to another,
following her tracks with his nose to the wind in the smothering slow burn
of the city. He finds her. In a morgue. Tortured with a leg cut off. It is
payback time from the crooked enablers to the spoiled enabled. They all have
to face his quiet wrath. Cape Flats has come to L.A.
In a sense I guess this was just another revenge story - one of thousands
that have littered the screens. In which we can sometimes live vicariously
thinking if this happened to someone we loved we would do the same. But that
is fantasy of course. But one we have been clinging to since stories began.
Righting wrongs to our family. I liked the way the Belgium director, Fabrice
du Welz, goes about this. Slow, methodical, unemotional - keeping it small
and smart. Targeted. Boseman is a presence on the screen using the intensity
of his eyes to do most of the acting - the hate, the guilt, the cold reckoning
of killing someone. There is not a lot of space for emotional depth or acting
variety - find sister, find her killers. Good filmmaking all around from
the settings, the cinematography, the actors and paced like an encroaching
storm. The one criticism I might have if I looked for one is that it plays
too easily to the audience's desire for things to turn out alright, for evil
to be defeated with no repercussions. If only. Also in the cast are Luke
Evans, Alfred Molina and Teresa Palmer, who is the prostitute with the noirish
heart of gold. In a world where the prostitute is the only moral person you
meet, you know you are in L.A.
Get on Up (2014) - 7.0
One of my favorite scenes in the film is when James Brown and the Famous
Flames are recording the song Please, Please, Please and the older white
owner of the label yells at his white assistant, what the fuck kind of song
is this. All he is singing is please, please, please. Please what? Please
pay his rent. The assistant tells him just listen, its not the song. It's
how it feels. And that was to some degree the music of James Brown - how
did it make you feel - did it make you want to dance, to screw, to feel like
busting out, squeeze your girl tight, shout into the darkness. James Brown
was often called the Hardest Working Man in Show Business for the effort
he put in, the number of days on the road, his total commitment to his career.
But he was also often considered the meanest man in show business. Treated
everyone badly. His band, his friends if he had any and his wives who he
beat up on occasion. His obsession with his own success, his inability to
credit others, his constantly demeaning those around him, his sensitivity
to any questioning of him as an insult and challenge. This makes it on one
level a sad story as he loses everyone around him - they all eventually leave
him- but as he says, I don't need anyone - so it never really hurts.
The film connects this behavior - both his drive and his devils - to his
childhood - growing up dirt poor, an abusive father, a runaway mother, growing
up in a brothel, spending time in prison. It made him what he was, that and
Chadwick Boseman inhabits James Brown in this film. He spent three months
with choreographer Aakomon Jones (who also did the choreography in the tribal
dance number in Black Panther) learning how to dance like Brown, walk like
Brown, talk like Brown, look like Brown, think like Brown. He became James
Brown. He so takes over that character that I was surprised it wasn't Boseman
singing - that is Brown with Boseman lip synching to it. It isn't an easy
characterization. Brown was a complex man of many moods, many of them not
likable - but at the same time Boseman and the director have to make him
sympathetic enough that you want to keep watching him. At times it
is like watching a cobra. And he does. Watch his eyes in this - always on
the prowl, ready to strike out, ready for adulation but never ready for love.
Ice cold at times.
In the two hour plus running time, the film covers a lot of his life - but
not in a standard bio-pic chronological manner. It is episodic - flashes
of his life fly by from any point in his life - mixed like a music tape -
like an archeologist finding clues to a man's life and putting them together.
We witness the pieces of his life and the music. It is always there and there
is a lot of Brown/Boseman performing it - the hit songs, the dance moves
that everyone tried to imitate back then, his flamboyant cloths and style
on stage - his moving till the sweat poured down. But you have to ask yourself
- was this the real James Brown - very little of it is intimate besides a
scene with his mother after he had become famous - he always seems to be
in performance mode - never showing any vulnerability, any weakness, any
compassion. He lived out his life just as he wanted. I wonder if anyone
knew the real James Brown even when he was living.
Everything about the film is tops - in particular the acting. Lennie James
plays his father, Viola Davis his mother, Dan Aykroyd his agent, Nelsan Ellis
is his longest lasting friend Bobby Byrd, Octavia Spencer the brothel owner,
Jill Scott his wife (the only one we get to know) and Craig Robinson as one
of his band.