Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Review: A befitting swan song for Chadwick Boseman; Viola Davis devilishly astounds

The greatest strength of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman's outstanding performances interlaced with August Wilson's still relevant monologues and blues music that sets the pitch-perfect 1920s tone.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Review: A befitting swan song for Chadwick Boseman; Viola Davis devilishly astounds
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Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Cast: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Director: George C. Wolfe

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Stars: 3.5/5

"The blues help you get out of bed in the morning. You get up knowing you ain't alone." Snazzy, snappy and sultry would be some of the vibes one feels when entering the world of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, based on August Wilson's 1982 play of the same name. The film, with an 1820's Chicago setting is as relevant as relevant can get, especially with the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. The George C. Wolfe depicts how BLM isn't just a 2020 protest but has been a part and parcel for POC since centuries ago.

Another reason why all eyes were on Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is that it marks the late actor Chadwick Boseman's last film before his untimely death. And what a swan song it indeed is! One of Boseman's undeniable acting qualities is his crackling presence on-screen that could rival the greatest of the great. As the quick-talking and hustling trumpeter Levee, Boseman instils dislike and empathy towards his characters, through the 2 hours and some minutes duration, putting August's hard-hitting monologues and his effervescent acting talent to good use. While initially, the broody attitude of Levee leaves you with a bad taste, when you find out the bone-chilling reason for his brashness and head held high personality, you switch your perception towards the aspiring coloured man hounded by his past and history. Levee is nothing short of an emotional ode to the troubled youth.

On the other hand, we have Viola Davis as the vivacious 'Mother of Blues' Ma Rainey, who can have an entire stadium at the palm of her hands with her croony tunes and larger than life vocals. The film takes place over a sunny afternoon at a recording studio where a couple of white men need to extort Rainey's talent and use it for cowardly white folk music. While Rainey is aware of the exploitation, she puts these white men to the task with her diva theatrics including shunning them for being cheap so as to not even getting her a bottle of coke. Davis has always had a way to leave you astounded with her work and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is no exception. Her commanding presence takes over through the riveting physical transformation as the iconic singer.

It's absolutely heartbreaking to see Rainey's talent being reduced to what it eventually was sold as but the film also celebrates her confidence in herself and her love for the blues. It's also the war tussle between Rainey and Levee, where on one hand the former is strict about it being the Ma Rainey show while Levee wants to sabotage that for his own gain. Though there aren't many a scene between the acting extraordinaire duo, the sequences they are in are a crackling delight.

Amongst the supporting cast, Gynn Turman, Colman Domingo and Michael Potts as the rest of Rainey's band have minimal character sketches but serve the overall purpose. Taylor Paige as Rainey's girlfriend and Levee's fling Dussie Mae doesn't have much to play with.

While Tobias A. Schliessler's cinematography is top-notch, it's the music that truly reels you in and gives you all the 1920 blues' vibes one expects from the movie. The entire 'play' setting over a film while watching it on our laptops or television screens doesn't go unnoticed either.

ALSO READ: Chadwick Boseman: Late Black Panther star earns Gotham Award 2020 nomination for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

At the end of the day, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is 'The Voila Davis and Chadwick Boseman Show' and we're not complaining at the slightest.