Another strong music biopic about American music, at least the equal of I Walk the Line and Ray. If you have ANY interest in American music, especially black music of the 50s, I guarantee you will enjoy this film.
It differs from those other biopics in that this one is about a label, the Chess label, so we get nice little snapshots of the stories of all the major artists therein, framed around the central story of the well meaning Polish immigrant label founder, Leonard Chess.
It tells the story well, never straying too far from the conventions of this type of film, but what really raises it up, is the feel for the period and the sheer majesty of the music.
Whatever your thougths about modern day black music (for me it's somewhat disappointing, rap and hip hop not being my bag, and the good old fashioned singers like Alicia Keyes seemingly lost in mediocre material) - surely no one can deny how good this stuff was, and how historic.
Each of these amazing artists of the period seemed to bring a new musical revolution to that studio on Michigan Avenue, be it Muddy Waters' electrified version of the country blues of his childhood, aligned with the urban harmonica of his less than stable friend, Little Walter. Or the almost non human sounds from the throat of Mr Howlin Wolf. Those guys really did create the blues as we now know them.
Even more creative, was the extraordinary country/r'n'b hybrid of Chuck Berry, which tied in with his clever lyrics and stage act, really was the start of rock'n'roll.
Finally, the incredible voice and life of Etta James, more than adequately played here by Beyonce Knowles, could arguably be the stuff of it's own full biopic.
The other actors are all good too - especially the actors playing Muddy Water's wife, and Little Walter. Adrian Brody is his usual quietly impressive self as Leonard Chess.
The film's key device is an unobtrusive narration by the actor playing Willie Dixon, who was one of the main songwriters at Chess. Both his songs and the narration are more than enough to tell us the social history behind the story of Chess and the music.
But, bottom line, the music (played by current day blues guys and sung mostly I believe, by the actors) drives the story, and is why you'll enjoy this film, preferably on some enormous screen where you can appreciate this slice of 20th century history blazing out of a good surround sound system!