Paul Elliott’s review published on Letterboxd:
The transformative power of the blues becomes observed in this George C. Wolfe's directed adaptation of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play. It tragically sees Chadwick Boseman appearing in his final screen role, and it's difficult watching the film without acknowledging the fact as he beautifully plays Levee, a trumpet player clasping an intense determination to be successful.
It attempts to balance the high frictions between Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), a revolutionising blues singer promoted as the "Mother of the Blues", her white management and the hepped up Levee throughout the time of a recording session in Chicago during 1927. The material, adapted by actor-turned screenwriter Ruben Santiago-Hudson, struggles to cross the line from stage to screen and Wolfe's direction feels static and stunted with the sparsely populated sets and minimalist visuals emphasising it's construction for the theatre.
The emotional power of Wilson's words are somewhat incommutable; they are invariably more appropriate for the stage, Fences (directed by Denzel Washington who co-produces here) had a similar downside. However, Boseman puts his heart and soul into his portrayal of Levee, and he is entirely mesmerising. He was a considerably talented man, and more markedly; apparent from the various anecdotes that have arisen since his passing, he was a man of incredible decency and integrity. It's difficult not to be captivated by the frustrations of the men of varied generations, each with there own distinct perspectives, sitting around in a rehearsal room communicating tales of discrimination and intolerance, and ultimately, over and above the film's limitations, the characters catalyse some emotional experiences.