Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020) Early Movie Review: A Tightly Contained Near Masterpiece.
Truly at a loss for words here. Going into this one could of expected many of different things, but what we ultimately get is so much more powerful than anything to come out this past year. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is the new drama based on the play of the same name and is directed by George C. Wolfe. The film taking place on a single day, follow's blues icon Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) and her band at a recording session in Chicago in 1920's. What starts off as a typical session slowly arises as tension begins to escalate between Ma Rainey and her trumpet player Levee (Chadwick Boseman).
When going into Black Bottom, I was expecting it to be a grand spectacle showcasing the powerhouse that is Ma Rainey. Instead, what we are given is a borderline mumblecore style flick that despite being extremely contained, has one of the most relevant voices of the year. Viola Davis in the lead as Ma Rainey is surprisingly one of the most badass roles she's ever had. Her presence on the screen comes with such a sense of power and assertion that you can't help but almost clap every time she makes a new demand or uses her authority. Despite all this, Levee still has plans of his own. He wants to be his own star rather than a second thought in Ma Rainey's band. His drive is insane, showing how bad he want's to break out of this shell and be the next big thing no matter the cost. This simply could of not been portrayed without the best performance of the year by the late Chadwick Boseman. If there's one thing I can be certain of, it's that this man will get the posthumous Oscar he deserves. His performance is bound to bring out the tears consistently throughout the film thanks to his powerful monologues.
Like I said, the film has a very distinct mumblecore style to it. Thankfully, this works because of the amazing screenplay written by Ruben Santiago Junior. The themes stay extremely relevant today in the music industry, it's too often that we see artists of colour getting mistreated and uncredited by many labels. All of these factors ultimately deliver making for an unforgettable experience unlike no other this year. The cinematography is unparalleled, the film has such a unique golden touch to it that makes the experience so eye catching and enjoyable to see.
The only existing problem that really stands out with Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is how quickly the third act escalates. While it is indeed entertaining and worth the while, decisions characters make aren't throughly justified or explained. One character in particular, whom I won't name lashes out towards the end of the film and makes a pretty drastic decision. It almost feels like it comes out of nowhere and doesn't fit the same tone the film had going. Nevertheless, when everything comes into full circle, it's sensible enough to not deter from the overall experience.
At the end of the day as saddening as it is, this being Chadwick's final role is legendary. Not only is this one of his best performances of all time, but one of the best films of the year. Many will instantly disregard it as "Oscar Bait", but it's truly a moving, emotional rollercoaster backed by one of the greatest ensembles in cinema.
Be sure to check it out in limited theatres starting today, or on Netflix worldwide December 18th.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Gets A 4.5/5!