Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
The story of the origins of rock ‘n’ roll, except without much historical accuracy or even skillfully fanciful storytelling. Adrien Brody plays Leonard Chess, the man who teams up with Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright) to start up Chess Records and, according to this movie, invents a musical genre. Waters’ star begins to fade as new acts start coming in, including Chuck Berry (Mos Def) and the unforgettable Etta James (Beyoncé Knowles), and the glorious Camelot days of hit records and easy living give way to dissatisfaction, conflict and, eventually, life’s disappointments. The period has been given a beautiful rendering in writer-director Darnell Martin’s production but the screenplay lacks a lot of important elements; any elementary perusal of the internet will provide you with plenty of opinions as to just how much fiction has been given to the details of the stories told here (even when allowing for dramatic license), but if Martin had done a better job of entertaining the audience this might not have been such a bad thing. As it is, the film bites off more than it can chew and includes too many plotlines, and while the killer soundtrack and sterling performances do a lot to make up for this, it still leaves a bad taste in your mouth when it is over. Wright brings the usual gravity to his role that has made him one of the best actors on the modern screen, while Knowles is surprisingly effective as James; having had her spotlight stolen from her by Jennifer Hudson in her last musical, she rocks out as the legendary singer and delivers powerful covers of her biggest hit songs. Def’s Chuck Berry is a genuine scene-stealer as well, though his subplot is shoved into a corner and never really given a chance to shine.
Directed by Darnell Martin
Screenplay by Darnell Martin
Cinematography by Anastas N. Michos
Music by Terence Blanchard
Production Design by Linda Burton
Costume Design by Johnetta Boone
Film Editing by Peter C. Frank