Diego’s review published on Letterboxd:
The second film adaptation on an August Wilson play after Denzel Washington's excellent Fences (who returns as a producer in this one), Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, while in execution doesn't feel as cinematic as it could've been, it's still an excellent and fierce adaptation with moving social themes that are still relevant to this day.
The performances are the highlight and the best the film has to offer: Viola Davis continues to prove she's one of the very best actresses working today with yet another powerhouse performance as Ma Rainey. Very transformative and with such a commanding presence. Really reminded me of her work in Fences. But the standout is undoubtedly the late Chadwick Boseman, who gives the best performance of his entire career as Levee, a character so passionate yet desperate to leave his mark on music, with so much anger inside of him and a very harsh past. He doesn't waste a second or any moment to shine in this film and it's so riveting of a final performance. It's so sad that Chadwick is gone but hopefully his legacy will live on forever. And the rest of the cast: Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo and Michael Potts as the band members, they all suit their roles perfectly.
Technically speaking, the film is also really well done: The cinematography is very nice, the costumes and production design are stunning and suit the time period so well, and the music is superb. The exploration of the themes of never-ending racism and how the African-American culture and music had been taken away from them pack quite a punch and, as I said in the beginning, are very timely.
Speaking of those themes, despite this being a play adaptation, I do wish the film was a bit longer to fully flesh them out because it did feel a bit rushed and quick in how it wraps the story up. And another issue for me was the one I already mentioned that as a whole, there are many moments that felt more like a play than a film, with the dialogue, while riveting, getting very expository and it did lose me in some parts of the movie.
All and all, I found Ma Rainey's Black Bottom engaging from beginning to end. A great music drama with really poignant themes, stunning production value and two of the best performances of the year.