Michael Cox’s review published on Letterboxd:
"A-one, a-two, a-you know what to do." - Cutler
You know that feeling when you watch a good play? Well, this film nearly replicated that mesmerizing experience.
The film focuses itself on POC, more specifically black people, in the music industry and explores the history of blues and politicking during that point in time (no, not republican vs democrat stuff. Like dealing with managers and stardom and such, that kind of politicking). I know it's gonna resonate with a lot of people, especially POC artists.
The direction, cinematography, score, editing, and screenplay are all excellently done. The direction? Perfect. Cinematography? Clean. Score? Elevated. Editing? Smart. Screenplay? Sharp and masterful. One of my favorites this year.
The performances are all insanely good. All around, you've got yourself an excellent ensemble of thespians. Michael Potts (Slow Drag) and Colman Domingo (Cutler) charm their way through the film and help bring the band scenes to life. Glynn Turman (Toledo) gets a pretty nice monologue and his facial expressions are excellent.
But what you're really here are Viola Davis (Ma Rainey) and the late great Chadwick Boseman (Levee) and both delivered powerful performances. Davis commands every scene she's in. She's not afraid to get what she wants and demands that all eyes be on her. Boseman, on the other hand, delivers a career-best and it pains me that we won't be able to see more from him. His two monologues are powerful, emotionally raw, and your eyes never leave the screen. It's such an incredible performance. Both are arguably the best this year has had to offer so far.
It feels difficult writing about this film because it's really more of an experience watching it and I'd say watch it for yourself to feel it. It's an incredible film.
R.I.P. Chadwick Boseman. You are missed greatly.