Sush’s review published on Letterboxd:
What can I say other than that I t’s a real shame we lost Chadwick Boseman. A real shame. Him yelling at god asking him to turn his back on him holds a lot more weight knowing that he’s no longer living.
Undeniably Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has some of the best performances of the year, I’d argue the best male actor in a leading role. This film definitely depended on the success of these portrayals and luckily each performer pulled their weight and brought to life these expressive characters. The direction from Wolf truly felt natural and the work he did with the characters was exceptional. Each actor built off each other’s energy really well and I’d say that’s a testament to Wolf and how he’s able to capture the essence of August Wilson’s play.
Performance wise Viola Davis is an imposing independent black woman who doesn’t need any white man telling her what to do as Ma Rainey. She won’t have any of it. I mean damn the — for a lack of a better term — balls on this woman. While she comes off as a pain in the ass to work with it’s actually the white man that’s not only using Ma to get their way but her band too. Davis is impressive with the shorter screen time given to her. Colman Domingo plays the old school guy in Cutler who does what Ma tells him and doesn’t ask questions. He does so in such a great way too. Always checking Boseman’s Leevee and keeping him in place, or at least trying to. I loved the back and forth between him and Boseman. Glyn Turman’s Toledo is tragic in that he’s been through some hardships but never questions why and instead just chalks it up to it being the way life is sometimes. Michael Potts as Slow Drag is a cool mostly level headed guy who can riff on the bass. I really liked his story about the man who sold his soul to the devil. Finally there’s Boseman who played Leevee and damn did he play him so well. The energy, range of emotion, and cool-headedness that he brings to the role is incredible. It also works really well as things start to boil over and the stress reaches that tipping point. I can’t get over him yelling about god letting him down and not caring about him, and just watching it knowing he’s gone. It definitely brings more weight to the performance because you know he was battling with his cancer at the time. Overall this film is all about its directing and performances.
I did also enjoy the editing, shot selection, and overall cinematography. Although this story takes place in the same location, for the most part, as an audience member I felt included. I wonder how much inspiration came from something like The Great Gatsby by Baz Lurhman, just for the style and shots. Cutting to things when the trumpet hits the high note, or cutting the sound/music and going directly to dialogue. Very stylistic and I appreciated that.
I think that the cast and crew did a great job putting this together. I often have a hard time with films based on plays, they tend to drag at times being in the same location with the main focus being the acting. In this case at first it did feel like it dragged a bit but I got into it, and the 1.5h runtime helped send it home for me. In my opinion, Chadwick wins best actor in a leading role for this film. Viola will get a nom and may even win. Editing possibly? Directing I think a nom at least.
Nice to see Netflix wrap the year on a high note.
And finally, Rest In Peace Chadwick Boseman.