Movie review: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
There is already talk of a posthumous Oscar for Chadwick Boseman's performance in this film, currently showing on Netflix and his last on camera.
While on the surface that appears to be a move driven by sentiment, this is possibly his best showing.
As the fiery, self-confident, talented trumpeter Levee, he runs the viewer through a gamut of emotions.
You'll hate him, admire him, sympathise with him and despair of him. You will never take your eyes off him.
But Boseman is not the only one doing great work here.
Set in a recording studio in 1920s Chicago on a hot sweltering day, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom focuses on the setting to vinyl of the titular track.
Four musicians - three elder statesmen Cutler, Toledo and Slow Drag as well as the tempestuous Levee - set up in a cell-like changing room and it isn't long before the arguments start. There is a struggle.
Levee has arranged a new and exciting intro for legendary blues singer Ma Rainey's (Viola Davis) Black Bottom, but the trio don't want to rock the boat.
At the same time, Ma herself is on the way to the studio, and she is not a force to be trifled with, even making a police officer back down from his accusations.
While seemingly affluent from her star status, Ma is clearly at the waning of her career.
Once a pioneer, she is close to being forgotten in her own lifetime. But she won't back down and demands things are done her way.
With a perma-sheen of sweat, Davis gives a performance so powerful and magnificent it reaches through the screen. She's much like Levee, only with more intimidation because she runs her own ship.
But also like Levee, she is her own worst enemy, even wasting money on studio time by insisting her stammering nephew perform the song's intro.
This is based on an August Wilson play, and like similar stage-to-screen adaptations, the direction feels hampered.
The moment the musicians enter the changing room, the origins entrap the film and it is thanks to Davis and Boseman's gilt-edged portrayals that the staging is not a bigger issue.
MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM (M18)