Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, based on the play by the same name by August Wilson, proves to be a fitting send-off for Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, who tragically passed away from colon cancer earlier this year.
Directed by George C. Wolfe, the film focuses on a 1920s backing band for a blues diva (Viola Davis). Boseman plays Levee, the volatile trumpet player. Much of the movie focuses on the power struggles within the group. Levee wants a bigger spotlight, and the older band members (Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman, and Michael Potts) are alternately tolerant of him and exasperated by him.
The film feels stage-y. The sets are limited, and it's very talky. There is also a climactic act of violence (that is in the play as well) that feels unnecessary. The story's thematic points and character arcs could be completed without it.
That said, Boseman does strong work as Levee. It's a different role from his ones in Black Panther, 42, and Get on Up. He was a talented, versatile actor who was taken from audiences way too soon. He's also ably supported by the likes of Domingo, Turman, and Potts, none of whom have showy roles but prove themselves to be every bit the equal to Boseman.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is the best of Netflix's Oscar slate so far, but it's not quite as good as last year's trio of Marriage Story, Dolemite Is My Name, and The Two Popes.
*** Stars (Out of Four)