The rise and fall of Chess Records, which launched the careers of Muddy Waters, Etta James and Chuck Berry. Leonard Chess scoured the South, checking out the various blues scenes and selling records from the back of his Cadillac.
Genres: Drama, Musical/Performing Arts and Biopic; Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.; Release Date: December 5th, 2008 (wide); MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language and some sexuality.
Starring: Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright, Beyonce Knowles, Gabrielle Union, Columbus Short
Directed by: Darnell Martin
While this film lacks an original framework (it’s “Ray” and “La Bamba”), both the subject–a seminal recording label–and the performances make this entertainment worth watching. This story is not a documentary of Chess Records, but a story about their music.
Jeffrey Wright finally gets a role that hopefully will secure his stature. It’s overdue. As Muddy Waters his sill both as a character and an actor are very impressive here. Mos Def is a charming Chuck Berry; he really communicates the charisma that Berry exuded to his adoring female fans. Eamonn Walker is terrific, and appropriately intimidating, as Howlin’ Wolf. Walker electrifies the screen with his every morsel of screen time; I wish that after they’d finished “Cadillac Records,” they had just kept the sets up and kept the cameras running and began a biography of Howlin’ Wolf with Walker in the lead. Beyonce Knowles is very beautiful and pays worthy tribute to Etta James, the singer she plays.
The film drags and there are just too many story lines, so no single character or storyline gets the attention it deserves. I understand why Darnell Martin tried to put it all in (these were the stories that collectively made up Chess Records), but it is highly fictionalized anyway, so maybe concentrating more on fewer characters would have been more effective.