This is a thoroughly enjoyable, though heavy fictionalized film about the story of Leonard Chess and Chess Records- the legendary and influential man and label responsible for creating the "electric" blues scene in Chicago from the early 1940s-late 1960s. It's a story that definitely is worthy of being told cinematically. As it turns out, this film isn't the only one to tackle this subject, though I am unfamiliar with the other versions.
All in all, this is a pretty decent film, and, as I opened this review with, it is quite entertaining. It's not a musicla per se, but musical performances do make up a good chunk of the running time. Besides providing the story for Leonard, his label, and some of the people who recorded for him (and what a lineup it was!), the film does also give insight into the racial tensions of the era and the legacy of the blues, R&B, and soul. Even though it addresses these things, I could have used a stronger analysis and more depth here, as well as a more accurate portrayal of the characters and the history, but that's just the nitpicking historian in me.
There is a fair issues for me with this film, and that is, even though the film has a good story, the script isn't really all that original or great, and the direction, though okay, isn't really all that distinct or remarkable. Thankfully though, things are saved (and pretty much carried) by the great casting and the wonderful performances by said cast, and the excellent music and musical performances.
Here's the lineup to prove my point: Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Beyonce Knowles as Etta James, Columbus Short as Little Walter, Mos Def as Chuck Berry, Cedric the Entertainer as Willie Dixon, and Eamonn Walker as Howlin' Wolf, and that's just for starters. As great as these people are, and as much as I loved their work (especially Brody, Wright, Knowles, and Def) I also really loved Norman Reedus in a supporting role as the engineer at the studio. It's not a big or really significant role, but he does a good job, and I think he's just in general a solid actor who deserves more work.
All in all, this could have been a better work, but it's a decent enough overview and introduction to a great moment in music history, despite the flaws. If you happen to like anyone in the cast, dig the blues, or want to know more about any of this stuff, then give this one a watch.