Maxwell Alexander’s review published on Letterboxd:
I will admit it is hard to review this without the memory of Chadwick Boseman looming over this entire project. But a lot of the stress I feel is alleviated because Boseman delivers a stellar performance. I'm not giving him "sympathy praise" for his performance as Levee the trumpeter to the titular Ma Rainey because he gives every scene his all. His final gift to us is arguably his best performance of his career. The man dripped with such talent that it is heartbreaking to imagine what could have been. Don't let the title fool you this is Chadwick's movie he is the heart and soul.
Although I must say Viola Davis is equally as incredible as the title character. What she lacks for screen time she easily makes up for. She looks rough in this movie always sweating and heavy with make-up. But that just adds to the myth of Ma. She walks into a room and you know she is the most important figure there. She is so powerful that you still feel her presence even when she isn't on screen. But it's a presence that never distracts from what the rest of the cast is doing, especially Boseman. You need to feel the tension between these two at all times and it is conveyed brilliantly.
All of these amazing characters can be traced back to August Wilson's original play that has been adapted by Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Yes the film does feel like a stage play because it takes place in one building but that's where the feelings end. The script clips along and rarely gives you room to breathe. While "Fences" felt trapped on stage "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" sails as a motion picture in a brisk 90 minutes. It even has time to add a prologue in which we see one of Ma's performances. It is well directed so you understand all of the characters, what are the dynamics, why is there tension, Boseman is the Hotshot, Ma's the one running everything, and does so without adding any new dialogue.
The list is endless when it comes to why this movie is amazing. The production value is off the charts with impressive costumes, glorious set design, and a sound quality that isn't overwhelming. The music is something special whenever it takes center stage. It gives Davis and Boseman their time to shine. They are two entities fighting for the spotlight and it's so hard to pick a favorite. But like I said at the beginning this is Chadwick Boseman's movie. He deserves all the love and praise coming his way.