MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM FIRST REVIEWS: CHADWICK BOSEMAN DELIVERS KNOCKOUT FINAL PERFORMANCE
CRITICS SAY THE LATE ACTOR AND VIOLA DAVIS ARE MAGNETIC, LEADING A STRONG ENSEMBLE IN A VISUALLY SUMPTUOUS ADAPTATION OF THE AUGUST WILSON PLAY THAT SHOULD EARN THEM AWARDS RECOGNITION.
by Christopher Campbell | November 20, 2020 | Rotten Tomatoes
Everyone is talking about Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom for one reason above all: the Netflix Original features the final performance by Chadwick Boseman, who shockingly died of cancer over the summer. And as the first reviews arrive for the biographical drama, based on August Wilson’s 1982 play of the same name, Boseman continues to receive the majority of attention, mostly in the form of praise for his last work. But there are other reasons to look forward to the movie, including Viola Davis’ performance as the titular “Mother of the Blues” as well as Wilson’s powerful writing and some unforgettable moments as directed by George C. Wolfe.
Here’s what critics are saying about Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom:
LET’S GET RIGHT TO IT: HOW IS BOSEMAN’S FINAL PERFORMANCE?
Boseman is a revelation.– Fionnuala Halligan, Screen International
On a whole other level here… Watching him in this film is an absolutely hypnotic experience.– Joey Magidson, Awards Radar
Boseman’s performance really is the stuff of acting legend…[he] will make you feel like screen actors rarely are able to do.– J. Don Birnam, Splash Report
The confidence and composure of the icons he has played before has melted away into a kind of nervous insecurity we’ve never seen in the actor.– Peter Debruge, Variety
There are times where you have to remind yourself to breathe watching his performance.– Matt Goldberg, Collider
Ma Rainey is a hilarious film, and Boseman, through his coy smile, and displaying his full range, is equally hilarious in it.– Robert Daniels, IGN Movies
What a glorious performance to go out on.– Peter Bradshaw, Guardian
It’s no stretch to say his last performance may be his finest.– Odie Henderson, RogerEbert.com
DOES BOSEMAN’S DEATH CAST A SHADOW OVER THE ACHIEVEMENT?
We should have been just getting started with him. Sadly, this will have to stand as the crowning performance of his career.– Joey Magidson, Awards Radar
Chadwick Boseman’s astonishingly dynamic and charismatic performance reminds us of a promising future that can no longer come to pass. I can hardly think of a more fitting final act for his career than this.– Shane Slater, Film Actually
It’s an Oscar-worthy performance in what should have been a long career filled with Oscars.– Matt Goldberg, Collider
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is such a difficult movie to watch. While watching, it’s impossible not to face facts: this is it… turns out Boseman did have one last gift for us.– Mike Ryan, Uproxx
Boseman would cast a huge shadow over the film even if he hadn’t tragically passed away earlier this year at the age of 43.– Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
Even if Boseman were alive, his name would still certainly be on the shortlist for an Oscar nomination.– Gabriella Geisinger, Digital Spy
HOW IS VIOLA DAVIS?
Davis as the titular Ma Rainey gives one of the performances of her career.– Gabriella Geisinger, Digital Spy
It is one of the best performances of Davis’ career — a career already filled with many such depictions.– J. Don Birnam, Splash Report
The most engrossing, inspired transformation of her career.– Eric Kohn, IndieWire
Her performance is both otherworldly and all too human.– Oliver Jones, Observer
It’s a delectably grand performance.– Odie Henderson, RogerEbert.com
As Ma Rainey, Davis confirms how wide-ranging her talent is.– Fionnuala Halligan, Screen International
IS THE REST OF THE CAST GOOD?
The supporting cast deserves acclaim for their work.– Matt Goldberg, Collider
While Boseman and Davis are the stars, don’t sleep on Colman Domingo and Glynn Turman, who are excellent in their supporting parts.– Joey Magidson, Awards Radar
Domingo gives the character a quiet authority that is essential to the band dynamic and elevates not just Boseman but Davis’ performance as well.– Jason Guerrasio, Insider
Much will be made of Boseman and Davis’ work here, but Turman’s excellent work is also worthy of notice.– Odie Henderson, RogerEbert.com
The great Glynn Turman. This is the supporting performance that will get the awards attention… This is Turman’s moment even more than it is Boseman’s.– Roger Friedman, Showbiz 411
HOW IS THE FILM AS AN ADAPTATION?
You can feel the full force of Wilson’s play barrel down from the stage and into your living room.– Oliver Jones, Observer
This Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom feels not just adapted but accelerated, as if it were racing to meet the deadline its own characters keep putting off.– Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who adapted the play for the screen, honors Wilson’s eloquent and vernacular dialogue, which includes moments of wit.– Caryn James, BBC.com
Taking a play and turning it into a film has inherent challenges… The ability it shows to overcome that potential challenge makes it a superior work to the already well done Fences.– Joey Magidson, Awards Radar
Wolfe and screenwriter Ruben Santiago-Hudson have put the play into the movie, rather than vice versa.– Eric Kohn, IndieWire
DOES IT TRANSCEND ITS STAGE PLAY ORIGINS?
Ma Rainey feels fresh as a film.– Fionnuala Halligan, Screen International
While you can “feel” the stage origins, over time, that stuff kind of dissipates when the performances are so good.– Matt Goldberg, Collider
There is a static quality to some of the back and forth, but… the contained staginess of the movie comes off as welcome, intimate and, in the hands of these boldly empathetic performers, quite thrilling.– Oliver Jones, Observer
[Santiago-Hudson] and Wolfe do what they can to open up the play but the movie still remains, in a good way, stagey. There’s no way around it.– Roger Friedman, Showbiz 411
The characters move through space as if they were blocked for the stage, and it’s slightly distracting to watch.– Gabriella Geisinger, Digital Spy
Wilson’s dialogue is very “written” sounding, very theatrical, and it almost feels like the entire ensemble are acting on a podium rather than attempting to deliver a legitimate feature film.– Jordan Ruimy, World of Reel
HOW DOES THE FILM LOOK?
Right away, it was hard not to notice how striking the imagery of this film is throughout.– Aaron Neuwirth, We Live Entertainment
Tobias Schilesser, who typically shoots action or showy movies alongside the likes of Peter Berg and Bill Condon, delivers a radiant cinematography.– J. Don Birnam, Splash Report
Tobias A. Schliesser’s vibrant cinematography works wonders in up close, but has a flatter quality in some of the interstitial moments between the big set pieces.– Eric Kohn, IndieWire
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom premieres on Netflix on Friday, December 18, 2020.