George Clark’s review published on Letterboxd:
It's a sad fact that Chadwick Boseman gives arguably the best performance of his career in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Based on Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson's play, directed by George C. Wolfe and starring Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman, Michael Potts and Jeremy Shamos, the story follows a recording session in 1927 Chicago were tensions begin to rise between Ma Rainey, an ambitious young horn player and their management determined to control the uncontrollable "Mother of the Blues".
The film takes place largely in two rooms, the recording studio and a dark basement where the band rehearses. For a film based off a play, it doesn’t feel stage bound at all as Wolfe finds the right balance between letting Wilson’s monologues flow and shooting them in a cinematic way that kept the film flowing freely. Yet, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom doesn't work because of it's story, it works because Wolfe directs the actors with skill and poise, allowing for fantastic dialogue that leads to some incredible performances from the entire cast and some breathtaking monologues.
As I said earlier, Chadwick Boseman gives arguably the greatest performance of his career in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. You can't watch this film and not talk about him, he's phenomenal to watch with the final half an hour being absolutely astounding from him. He’s pure dynamite throughout and sadly, it’s devastating to think what more he could have accomplished in this world if given more time. Alongside him, Viola Davis was brilliant with her, rich, demanding, fantastic performance as Ma Rainey. Despite being slightly overshadowed by the masterful performance from Boseman, Davis gives it her all and stunned me with her rich portrayal and fantastic, somewhat intimidating screen presence throughout the course of the film.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is a powerful and pungent reminder of the necessity of the arts and just how much it means to people. Under the expert direction of Wolfe and a sharp, cutting script, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom isn't just one of the best films this year, it's a glittering tribute to the late great Chadwick Boseman who, beyond all doubt, steals every scene he's in.
2020 Releases Ranked