The scene also underscores the manner in which the collectivity of the African-American community is relinquished for individual survival, providing more understanding to Brown’s attitude that “James Brown had to take care of James Brown” as it is only natural that everyone must care, first, for themselves, which is also emphasized in a humorous if also uncomfortable manner in the opening scene that replays the moment when Brown is angered about someone using his personal bathroom in the building he owns. The significance of the “Battle Royal” scene can be easily missed as it is presented in a form similar to magic realism as one of the seminal moments when Brown is filled with or understands “the groove” that inhabits him. As such, this is one of those moments that viewers without a historical understanding of the “Battle Royal” will miss the scene’s significance in the film’s engagement of racism.
One final flaw of the film — if I can call it that — is that, while Chadwick Boseman captures the general charisma of Brown and comes close to Brown’s stage presence, I never forget that there is an actor portraying Brown during the performance scenes. For instance, there is a moment in Ray when one forgets that it is Jamie Foxx and thinks that it is Ray Charles, and the same can be said of Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett in What’s Love Got to Do with It? But, that never quite happens with Boseman. Of course, that may be unfair given the fact that Brown is considered one of the most electrifying performers ever to take the stage. They didn’t call him Mr. Dynamite for nothing.
I saw Brown perform eight times, spanning the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties, and, since the age of seven, I have seen the complete TAMI Show (1964) performance more times than I can remember. So, for those who truly know how Brown changed the world musically/rhythmically, culturally, and with dance, it would be unfair to expect someone to be able to duplicate that movement in a way that causes one to forget that one is viewing a “portrayal” of Brown. Yet, to its credit, the film fights, or the film, itself, is a fighter. It is filled with great one-liners, and every time I was ready to dislike the film there is a moment that causes me to remember why I did have high expectations for the film.
The relationship between Brown and his band, especially Bobby Byrd, is well done. The presentation of Brown as a man who took control of every aspect of his career — especially the “business” aspect — is also well done. The portrayal of how Brown’s dysfunctional childhood gave him his drive is clear and moving. Brown reminds us that talent needs confidence and hard work—a notion that can be used as a blueprint for young people pursuing their own dreams.