I had to see this one since it's about the music I grew up with and have listened to for well over 50 years now. It was okay, but I'd hoped it would be better. The problems start with the story. Either there's not one or there are too many of them. Take your pick. You might think it would be the story of Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody), and it is, but only in a way. The first hour is mostly about him and his record company, Chess, and Muddy Waters. Leonard's brother, Phil, is pretty much forgotten in the movie. But Howlin' Wolf (Eamonn Walker) and Little Walter (Chistopher Short) play big roles. Then Etta James (Beyonce Knowles) comes along and takes over the movie. Did I forget Chuck Berry (Mos Def)? He's in there too, though not for long. The movie tries to do too much and comes over more as a series of anecdotes than a coherent story.
Another problem is anachronisms. Or maybe just the mixing up of the timeline. Elvis in the army when the Beach Boys had a hit with "Surfin' U.S.A." and when Chuck Berry went to jail the first time? I don't think so. There's way too much of that kind of thing in the movie for an Old Guy who remembers those times. It's only a movie, I know, but that stuff aggravates me. And we don't even find out how a song called "Ida Red" became "Maybelline."
Nothing wrong with the performances, though. Everybody's good, even the players in minor roles. Mos Def does the best he can with Chuck Berry, but nobody could really capture him. I didn't think Mos Def's duck walk was all that good. The movie makes it seem that Berry's career was pretty much over at the point of the first arrest. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
And the soundtrack is great. Beyonce is the standout with her version of Etta James' tunes, and she gets by far the most screen time for her singing (maybe because she's executive producer of the movie). My suggestion, however, after having listened to the double CD soundtrack is that you seek out the original recordings. They're even better.
This all reminds me that Steve Mertz was working on a crime novel about Muddy Waters and Little Walter. I even read a bit of it. Somebody should publish it. Now's the time.