‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ Review


Chicago, 1927. A recording session. Tensions rise between Ma Rainey, her ambitious horn player and the white management determined to control the uncontrollable “Mother of the Blues”. Based on Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson’s play. We are introduced right off the back to the power struggle between Ma Rainey and Levee. He tries to force himself upon the stage to get a little bit of the limelight during their opening number, and Ma Rainey isn’t here for it. Early on, we get Levee’s impact, and I had to pause for a minute to reflect on Chadwick and understand this is his final performance. It is sad, and watching him do his thing, breaks my heart.

"Into The Wild." The temperature outdoors was at freezing when Emile Hirsch performed the naked back float down the stream.

Next, one of the things that stand out early is the costume design, the set design, and the sounds, just the combination of the three truly set the tone early for what is ahead.

Soon we see Ma Rainey and how she demands that everyone feels her presence. Ma had a powerful voice, and she knew what she was something special, and she wasn’t going to settle for anything less than what she deserved. It was powerful, especially in this era, and I loved how she stood her ground to the execs and didn’t care about the blowback. She is the show, she is the star, and she knows how on a flip of a dime, they would toss her aside like garbage.

"Black Swan." Natalie Portman not only trained for a year as a dancer to prepare for the role, but paid for the the training out of her own pocket until the film found investors. Aronofsky attributed the film's getting made at all to Portman's dedication and enthusiasm.

Although the story is straight forward, Ma Rainey has an emotional depth about the power of loving something. These individuals have a love for blues. The blues are their lives and the thing that keeps them moving forward in a world that is so cruel towards people like them.

So then, the ensemble cast in this film is nothing short of a spectacle. Kicking it off with Chadwick Boseman, who gives an emotionally invigorating performance for the ages. It is the final chapter in what is a fantastic career, and the heart and soul he puts into Levee’s role is one we will never forget. There is a moment in the film where he talks to God and his doubts about his existence. That particular moment was not just an Oscar moment, but it was hard to watch him speak to a God and understand he is gone now.

Movie trailers used to play after the film.

More on the acting, Viola Davis demands to be seen and heard in this film, and I am mesmerized by the charisma she showcased within Ma Rainey. Ma Rainey was flashy, loud, smooth, and a star, and Davis encaptures every bit of that and makes you not take your eyes off the screen when she is on it. I personally feel like this is Viola’s best performance of her career. And the rest of the cast was strong as this might be the best-acted film of the year.

Finally, the shots were simplistic and nothing over the top, but the angles we are consuming are executed well. The tight 94-minute run-time makes the film come and go in a fast nature, which I loved as they never tried to overstay their welcome.

"The Social Network." During one of the depositions, it is mentioned that the invention of Facebook made Mark Zuckerberg "the biggest thing on a campus that included nineteen Nobel Laureates, fifteen Pulitzer Prize winners, two future Olympians, and a movie star." One of the lawyers then asks, "Who was the movie star?" and the response is, "Does it matter?" This movie star was, in fact, Natalie Portman, who was enrolled at Harvard from

The Verdict:

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Rating: 4 out of 5.Overall, my issues with the film are somewhat small. I don’t believe we stayed in one area of the film to invest in the story emotionally. We got bits and pieces of what was transpiring, and they were enough to nibble on each of Ma and Levee’s past, but they weren’t fully developed enough to get you ultimately invested. It was an acting showcase as not one piece of dialogue was wasted, nor was one movement wasted. I enjoyed everyone in this film and believe this might be a front runner for ensemble nominee.

"Pretty Woman." Edward (Richard Gere) snapping the necklace case down on Vivian's (Julia Roberts) fingers, was improvised by Gere, and Roberts's reaction (laughter) was totally natural. The filmmakers liked it so much, they decided to leave it in.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is an acting showcase led by phenomenal performances from Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis.
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