In this tale of sex, violence, race, and rock and roll in 1950s Chicago, "Cadillac Records" follows the exciting but turbulent lives of some of America's musical legends, including Muddy Waters, Leonard Chess, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Etta James and Chuck Berry. Written by
While this film lacks an original framework (it's "Ray" and "La Bamba" and "Hot Wax" and "Why Do Fools Fall in Love"....), both the subject--a seminal recording label--and the performances make this electrifying entertainment.
I can't speak to the accuracy of its historical facts regarding Leonard Chess' exploitation of some of music's largest figures, but the screenplay zooms along and takes us with it. Jeffrey Wright finally gets a role that hopefully will secure his stature. It's overdue. As Muddy Waters his towering strength both as a character and an actor are very impressive here. As well, the entire supporting cast (and it's a large cast) really rise to the occasion. Columbus Short as Little Walter and Gabrielle Union as Water's wife are equally impressive. And in smaller roles, Eamonn Walker as Howlin' Wolf and Mos Def as Chuck Berry nearly steal the show.
I've never been much of a fan of Adrien Brody, but in the first half of the film, he's quite effective. It's only when Beyoncé Knowles arrives that he stumbles, and who can blame him. Ms. Knowles takes a sensational role and scorches the screen. As the conflicted and troubled Etta James, there's a scene on a livingroom floor in front of a fireplace that should win Ms. Knowles many awards. And we're given a generous helping of sensational James' track very well covered by Ms. Knowles.
When we watch America's taste in music change--both before and after the centerpiece of this story--we're at first exhilarated at the discovery of this "new" form of music, and when it wanes and the lives that were propelled to stardom flag, we feel an enormous sadness. But what we know today--that these individuals became legends--is of great consolation.
I don't care that the structure is straightforward. The recreation of the period and it's attitudes are spot on, and the cinematography by Anastas N. Michos make the film rise above any weakness in the script.
Then, there's the soundtrack....
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