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 incredible talent.

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.