Saturday, December 26, 2020

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020)

 George C Wolfe's stunning adaption of the awards winning August Wilson play is a thing to behold.  A lean mean machine it moves like the wind and it breaks your heart in all the right ways.

The plot has Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) going to a studio in Chicago to record her next record. Waiting for her is her band, including Levee (Chadwick Boseman), a trumpet player who has some arrangements that the white producers think will be big sellers. The problem is the fates are conspiring against Levee and it isn't going to go as he thinks.

I originally saw the play of Ma Rainey a number of years ago with Whoopee Goldberg as Rainey and the excellent Charles Dutton as Levee. Goldberg had the presence but never made you for get she was Whoopi. Dutton was excellent but probably a little too old looking for his second go round in the role. I liked the show but I didn't love it. However my interest was piqued when I saw the trailer for the Netflix film. Everything looked right.

There is really little to say but the praise and the Oscar talk for the film are right on target. George C Wolfe has made a masterpiece of cinema. Chopping out close to an hour of material (not that you'd notice- I had to compare running times) Wolfe has fashioned a film that is always thematically on target and perfectly modulated. This is a film that doesn't wander and meander but holds our attention front and center. Wolfe also opens the story up placing us in a world that isn't just a recording studio.

Viola Davis loses herself in the role of Ma. Rarely has any actress ever inhabited a role as Davis does here. She is almost certain to be in the running for another Oscar, and if she isn't there is something seriously wrong with the Academy.

Chadwick .Boseman is heartbreaking as Levee. Yea, he hits every note exactly right but he also perfectly conveys Levee's misplaced sense of the world. We know he's doomed, and we like him so much that we break knowing that there is nothing we or anyone else can do to stop his fall. Additionally knowing that Boseman passed away not long before the film was released is bittersweet. Partly because his gaunt appearance, which is perfect for the role, makes you realize how sick he was at the end, but also because with this role Boseman would have shot into the stratosphere of the best actors the screen and audiences have ever seen. Yes T'Challa will be the role he is always remembered for but Levee is his greatest performance.

Highly recommended MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM is one the very best films of 2020

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