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8/10
GREAT Music, Flashy Nostalgia, Fascinating Cultural History
"Cadillac Records" is a fun, fast, flashy introduction to the world of Chess Records. In the 1950s, Leonard Chess, a Polish-born Jew in Chicago, along with his brother Phil (not seen in this film) produced "race" records by African American blues and rock and roll legends like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry and Etta James.

These artists' work had huge impact on popular music; the Rolling Stones are shown on a pilgrimage to Chess Studio. Their music is great and is played all but non-stop on the soundtrack, which is a very good thing. Flashy glimpses into the glamorous styles of the 1950s and 60s include loving looks at the many Cadillacs Chess gives as gifts to his star performers.

Jeffrey Wright is quietly compelling as Muddy Waters. 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.

"Cadillac Records" feels a bit rushed, and not as deep and probing as it could have been. Perhaps much backstory was cut out? A shame, because Adrien Brody, a brilliant and compelling actor, is not given enough to do.

So much more could and should have been said about Chess the man and his motivations, and the complex relationship he had with his singers. There is the story that Chess put Muddy Waters to work painting his ceiling. Some accused him of paternalism; curious viewers are advised to pick up Nadine Cohodas' book "Spinning Blues into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records." Also, "Cadillac Records" can't avoid the clichés inherent in music biopics: the innocent character is introduced to drugs for the first time, and is ruined by them; the self destructiveness of brilliant people, the exhilarating, brutal, rags-to-riches-to-obscurity trajectory of show biz careers. For all that, "Cadillac Records" is fun and it makes you want to learn more about an important cultural moment in American history.
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3/10
This is mostly fiction and an insult to the artists and the history of Chess Records.
Davo Sambo16 December 2008
Pretty much everything in this movie is the work of fiction. It reminds me of one of those Simpsons episodes where a TV studio does a biopic and makes up half the story for 'dramatic effect'. But this is even worse- honestly it was bad enough that the stories were fictional, but they are also just an insult to the people (for some strange reason(!) though all except the white studio owner that is, who was a hopeless romantic, who was also apparently the pioneer of the Chicago blues...all things to all men. He was a saint, everyone else, the musicians were anything but(!)) Let's get some facts clear- Leonard Chess set up the company with his brother, after working at another company Aristocrat Records. It was here they worked with Muddy Waters. So no- Muddy didn't meet Little Walter on the street and bring him into his house. And no, little Walter didn't have the hots for Muddy's wife Geneva. Although Leonard Chess was very much hands on when he started the company, by all accounts the guy who really pioneered the classic sound of the records was Willie Dixon. Who is criminally underused and treated as a one trick pony who could only write blues songs. He left in the late 50's to work at Cobra records after being underpaid by Chess- listen to those Cobra records and those at Chess- they sound pretty similar right? That's because Willie Dixon was the pioneer- Leonard Chess was the man stuck in the past.

One example of the film's dreadful portrayal of the individuals is the fictional scene where Muddy Waters meets Leonard Chess (ignoring their prior recording work at Aristocrat records). Little Walter is going to shoot another harp player who has hit him, and Muddy stands in his way. Yet the only story remotely like this in REALITY is when a friend of Little Walter's told his wife to leave a club, and she sat by Howlin' Wolf and refused to go. Little Walter was performing on stage, and had seen Howlin' Wolf get his gun out. He jumped down stage and told Wolf that if he was going to shoot his friend, he'd have to shoot him. He later arranged a meeting between his friend and Wolf, who in fact became friends despite the altercation. Which is why this movie is so frustrating- the REAL lives of these people is nothing short of fascinating, exciting and a great background to their music. By all accounts Little Walter was a bit of a loose cannon, but he was also a real person- not a one-dimensional madman who was out to destroy himself and everyone else around him. The story told in the movie is everything that is wrong with Hollywood- overblown, turgid and full of dreadful 'emotional' scenes (everything with Brody and Beyonce is so clichéd and hammed up that its cringe worthy). While the story here is just dull, the real stories have managed to fill biographies dedicated to each of these artists.

Some more inaccuracies; Little Walter never shot someone just for touring under his name- once again he was no angel, but neither does it seem was he a murderer as the movie suggests. Howlin' Wolf actually stayed with Muddy Waters when he first moved to Chicago- and sometimes they were friends, others professional rivals. Yet Muddy is chosen to be some kind of protagonist who we are supposed to feel sympathy for when another man tries to take his crown. Even worse some of the MORE fascinating characters (with all due respect to Leonard 'bore fest' Chess and Muddy Waters) of Bo Diddley, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Ike Turner or Jackie Brenston are completely ignored. Because these people were irrelevant- Chuck Berry invented Rock N Roll music all on his lonesome and no one else laid the groundwork for that (an especially contrived piece of storytelling when you consider that these guys recorded their seminal records at Chess.) But worst of all is the love story. The entire second half of the movie is dedicated to Etta James and Leonard Chess. Who by the way never had any kind of love affair- and neither did they speak like buffoons to each other about their 'feelings'. Etta James had already been a successful star before Chess- her career if anything went down hill when she joined. One of the more annoying things is that the actors do their own singing- few of them are up to the task. Beyonce is simply dreadful as Etta James vocal imitator. On a microcosm it is a perfect representation of why this is an awful movie. Beyonce's voice is overblown, she has no ability to control her vocal range without trying to jump from top to bottom every two seconds, and ultimately all the soul she tries to put on is clearly just that- put on. She doesn't have the understatement of Etta, the ability to lull you into a false sense of security before taking her voice from 0-60 in a second, and neither does she have that almost primal quality that Etta had back then. Like this movie, Beyonce's performance is overblown and lacks any character or soul.

I understand that some liberties might be taken with a story. For example, for what it is the Temptations biopic is enjoyable- yes there are discrepancies and some things that should have been more central to the story, but it did a good impression of the music and the stories behind them. Cadillac Records however is like the He-Man Masters of the Universe of music biopics- it has little to do with the source material except sharing the names and likenesses of the characters, but any representation of the source material is superficial at best. And that's the only word that really can describe this movie- superficial. You have been warned.
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3/10
Absolutely inaccurate
gerard herzhaft28 April 2009
As a piece of entertainment this movie may be OK. But why take REAL names of REAL people (some of them fortunately are still living) to tell a story which, for the most part, is completely inaccurate. IMDb reviewer Davo Sambo has rightly pointed out the most blatant inaccuracies that this film carries. But as I have seen and met most of the artists involved in the plot (and for some of them - like Muddy who went dining at my home in Lyon (France) - I've had the fortune to know them personally) what worries me the most is that their personnality are also very inaccurate. For instance, Muddy who had an incredible charisma is portrayed here essentially as a very tepid character who thinks mostly to chase women. And Howlin' Wolf - a tough man certainly but a very bright and articulate one - is here portrayed as the terrorizing Wolf he PLAYED on stage and never out stage. The true story of the Chess saga (and the Chicago blues) is yet to be told properly
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1/10
That's not so good Al...
mustangboy6630 September 2009
If you ever wanted a good example of irony, this is it. Once again, these artists are taken advantage of, this time by the movie industry. The very fact that they failed to use the amazing original recordings of these artist(most likely to save on production costs)shows that the filmmaker had ultimately no real interest in their music or history, and just wanted to make some money(and keep it all for themselves again). The one and only redeeming quality of this movie is that hopefully, people who watch it will find the REAL recordings of these artist and actually LISTEN to them. I myself don't care about their personal lives. I just love the music.
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2/10
if you love and know about the blues, stay away
jamescollins-48 December 2008
Saying Leonard Chess discovered Etta James, Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Howlin' Wolf is like saying George Washington discovered America. They all recorded in studios before they recorded at Chess. According to this movie, Muddy and Willie don't fly to England until 1967. It was 1958; ask Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and Jimmy Page among others. Not only does this movie get a lot wrong by misconstruing the facts, it leaves out a couple the bigger players like Sonny Boy Williamson and Big Bill Broonzy. If you want to hear Etta at her best, listen to the live version of "Baby, What You Want Me To Do". Beyonce couldn't touch that. Spike Lee could do this movie with the same actors (except Beyonce, please use Sharon Jones) and win a Grammy.

The real story of what these people went through doesn't need to be dramatized or exaggerated, it's a great story as is. Read some books.
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10/10
Huge
Michael Fargo5 December 2008
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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8/10
this movie lets appreciate music that would otherwise be overlooked
infinitylies16 December 2008
The trouble with these kind of movies is that they will never satisfy the purists among us. OK so maybe it glosses over the facts and makes the history all shiny and Hollywood, but I will see how many people will come away from this movie WANTING to find out more about the history of blues.

So what if its not perfect, if you want a perfect history you will go and buy a documentary on the subject. I want to be entertained when I watch a movie not sit there and critique history.

I think all the performances in the movie are convincing and great. I especially loved Beyonce, she just seems to ooze talent, although the on-screen time is shorter compared to Dreamgirls, she is extremely commanding.

As for the covering Etta's song, these are outstanding. I am in love with the songs all over again, and in love with these versions.
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8/10
sure, it may have it's share of clichés and pit-falls, but it makes you feel the Blues, deep down your spine, long after you leave
MisterWhiplash5 December 2008
It's hard to get a feel for a specific time and period in movies let alone an actual mood of a particular music. The best bio-pics on musicians tend to get it just about right (Bird, Sid & Nancy, The Doors, Walk the Line) even if the films aren't great or, even worse, have those tired old conventions of real-life people fit in tidy fashion for a 2-hour storyline. Sometimes all we can hope for is that they get the mood right, and even that isn't attained; some years back the wildly over-praised Ray had strong performances but, to me, didn't really capture that feel of what it was like to be in the midst of something really spectacular- we only saw it being great for Ray Charles (not that his music didn't help the movie, somewhat besides the point).

There's an attitude to a kind of music, whether it's punk or jazz or psychedelic rock or even in "wtf" mode in I'm Not There. The best thing about Cadillac Records, the thing that will have me go back and watch it again more than anything, is that it captures what it was like to be around the one of the significant blues explosions in America. There was always blues in the US in the 20th century, but it grew steadily, out of sorrow and bad days and nights and hate and love gone bad or good for African Americans. Cadillac Records covers some of the crucial blues artists- Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry (the cross-over), Willie Dixon, Etta James- and how their personalities were shaped by whatever was around them, and then into the songs. We may not get an entire life story out of all those in the film, but unlike Walk the Line or Ray we don't need it at all to know these people, or the characters.

The actors, it should be said, really do a lot of heavy lifting here. The music, it goes without saying, is spectacular and wonderful and often shown as developing out of a myriad of things (frustration, sadness, joy, craziness, anguish, love), but the script does follow some of those lines that are troublesome in bio-pics (one character, Little Walter, is the proverbial black sheep and that's almost all he is, and there's the obvious dippings in-and-out of relationship things).

So, the actors fill in the gaps in the formula, and make it far more enjoyable and full of life than it might have in other hands; this is the wisdom of the director Darnell Martin, usually a TV director. He casts not entirely on if they exactly fit the original people, but if they got the right stuff for the particular person: Muddy Waters, the real bad-ass of the group and the real main character of the story, is given powerhouse form by Jeffrey Wright in every frame; Beyonce Knowles, while hardly the worst thing in Dreamgirls, completely redeems herself and then some as Etta James, going all out in a full-fleshed out dramatic performance (how well she sings is a given); Columbus Short, given the walking cliché of Little, takes it for everything it's worth, and it is never less than interesting; Eaommon Walker (from Oz) is great as Howlin' Wolf in any scene; Mos Def finds the line of hamming it up and playing it for real for Chuck Berry, and makes it work all the way; Adrien Brody, as the token white main player, is given not a lot to work with either, but is also riveting and captivating and a reminder of why he won the Oscar years back.

But with all this gushing about the actors, I shouldn't forget about the music, the blues, all of it lovingly depicted (maybe at times too lovingly- Cedric's narration) while also in rightful critical form on how the blues got completely ripped off by any (arguably talented) rock band waiting in the wings. You can feel the blues dripping off the screen in some scenes in the first half of the film, the scenes with Waters playing in the club or just in his bedroom, or Chuck Berry playing on stage with a mixed crowd, or the dialog in certain scenes. As a fan of the blues, it hit its target right on spot while hopefully converting some who don't know Muddy Waters or Howlin Wolfs' catalogs like Ray Charles. One more cliché to note, a positive one: it gets you whistling as you leave the theater and tapping your feet at your seat. That's good enough sometimes.
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5/10
Weak story arc but still somewhat entertaining
Turfseer26 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Cadillac Records is really the story of Chess Records founded by a businessman named Leonard Chess who signed some of the biggest black entertainers in the music business during the 50s and 60s. Supposedly Chess Records came to be known as Cadillac Records due to Chess's penchant for paying his musicians with Cadillacs and not cash.

I've read that there were quite a few liberties taken with the historical record in composing the screenplay. This is particularly true of Leonard Chess (played by a miscast Adrien Brody) who purportedly short-changed the musicians who were under contract to him (the Chess in "Cadillac Records" is more of a good-natured cheerleader who always tries to be a great friend to the musicians he hires).

The chief flaw of Cadillac Records is that it doesn't have a central protagonist. Just as we're getting used to Muddy Waters as the main character, he's supplanted by Little Walter and Howlin Wolf. Then suddenly Chuck Berry takes the spotlight only to be replaced by Etta James. Unfortunately, the shelf life of musicians (and even big time musicians) is not very long--usually only a few years in the spotlight.

Mos Def is excellent as a wild and creative Chuck Berry but his screen time is much too short for such a seminal figure. Each of the four main characters have one or two things that happen to them that's quite interesting. With Chuck Berry, it's the fact that he was arrested for violating the Mann Act--having sex with underage girls and traveling over interstate lines. Little Walter ends up shooting a man for simply using his name in a musical group (I couldn't understand why there was no investigation into that shooting). In addition to Muddy Water's womanizing, there's also some attention paid to his financial problems that occurred after he no longer was churning out hit records.

While Beyonce looks real fine as Etta James, her acting is a bit over the top as she portrays the singer's descent into heroin addiction. I didn't buy Leonard Chess's flirtation with Etta James and Brody and Beyonce simply have no chemistry together.

Cadillac Records is narrated by songwriter Willie Dixon played by Cedric the Entertainer. The film needs a narrator to compensate for the lack of a strong story arc. Nonetheless, Cadillac Records is worth seeing for the music and the recreation of a bygone era. Just don't expect any drama that will knock your socks off!
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8/10
Condensed Cream of Crop (Not Crap!) in Well-Cast Musical Biopic
Anyone remember those old K-Tel compilation albums with the hits slightly sped up so the K-Tel folks could pack in more songs? CADILLAC RECORDS (CR) gives a similar treatment to the story of Chess Records, nicknamed "Cadillac Records" because the Polish-American Chess brothers, Leonard and Phil (Adrien Brody and Norman Reedus, reunited from the film SIX WAYS TO Sunday), would give the artists Caddies as rewards -- out of the artists' own royalties! Chess Records got the music of Muddy Waters, Etta James, Chuck Berry, and other seminal R&B performers out to the general public, climbing the charts as what were then called "race records." Perhaps because of time and/or money constraints, writer/director Darnell Martin seems to rush through the Chess stars' highs (sometimes literally, with scenes of drug and/or alcohol abuse) and lows, forcing her to condense her subjects' dramatic life stories to the point where they don't even seem to age (other than a few perfunctory silver streaks visible in Brody's hair late in the film) despite the indication that years have passed. Even the Chess brothers' own story is only half-told, with the focus being on Leonard as Phil is rendered all but invisible. Heck, for half the film, I thought Phil was just another sound engineer, since we in the audience only ever see him during recording sessions! That said, I still found a lot to like about CR. I was riveted and moved by the events and the performances, and the musical numbers kick butt; I want the soundtrack (maybe even the original versions of the songs :-))! Jeffrey Wright commands the screen as Muddy Waters, who becomes Chess Records' first star, complete with groupies. He comes home one night to find wife Geneva (sympathetically played by Gabrielle Union) with a baby in her arms -- left there by a fan who says Muddy's the father. Mos Def adds sly humor as Chuck Berry. Eamonn Walker is downright scary as Muddy's rival, Howlin' Wolf. Columbus Short breaks your heart and drives you crazy all at once as Little Walter, whose lack of a mother or self-discipline proves to be his tragic flaw. Beyoncé Knowles shows she has range as both an actress and a singer in her fiery, heartrending portrayal of the talented but troubled Etta James. Leonard tries to help Etta to learn to "sing the blues, not live it," but with Etta's emotional baggage, that's easier said than done. Things only get more complicated when she and Leonard become attracted to each other despite his having a sweet, pretty wife, Revetta (Emmanuelle Chriqui). I'm not surprised that in real life, Etta herself gave her blessing to Beyoncé's soulful rendition of "At Last," the ultimate make-out song and Presidential inauguration anthem! :-) Although Leonard Chess is almost more like a host here than a well-drawn character, Brody nevertheless works well with the cast and has great chemistry with Beyoncé. In fact, he gets a good amount of on screen love action, including a nude scene with the fetching Chriqui! :-)
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5/10
A Nice Film To Dance To (but you wouldn't want to live there)
Seamus28295 January 2009
'Cadillac Records' is an admirable attempt to tell the tale of the legendary Chess Records,which did for Blues what Atlantic Records did for R&B/Soul,Jazz,Rock & Roll,etc. The main problem is that Hollywood can always be counted on for totally screwing up any & all forms of social history (and fumbles the ball,big time as usual). The film's writer/director obviously didn't do a whole lot of home work in looking for historical authenticity. It seemed to content that Chess Records only had about a handful of talent recording (Muddy Waters,Howlin' Wolf,Etta James,while totally ignoring Bo Diddley & the stable of other equally talented musicians & song writers). A friend of mine who knows his onions in the field of creative African American/Black music told me of a lot of the glaring omissions that was left out of this film (there were actually two Chess brothers that ran the label),as well as the fact that several Rhythm & Blues,Rock & Roll & even Jazz acts also recorded for Chess Records,back in the day. Adrian Brody,who normally pulls down some world class roles seems content to be the closest thing to a used car salesman (while spouting a nearly non stop,fire cracker string of swearing out of his mouth). Jeffrey Wright has some nice screen time as Muddy Waters. Some of the rest of the cast just seems wasted in this half baked attempt of telling the story of Blues music. This film only played out for a couple of weeks before it ended up as a 2nd string, budget line feature (does that tell you something?). Rated 'R' by the MPAA, this film features wall to wall swearing,lots of sexual goings-on,drug & alcohol abuse & other material that you probably wouldn't want junior to see (at least until he/she's a bit older)
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1/10
Listen to the Original Music Instead
mpbuchwald14 March 2009
"Cadillac Records" trades in vulgar racist stereotypes that demean and defame the real life persons upon whom the film allegedly is based. The evil formula in use is one familiar to anyone who has heard the type of misleading, underhanded and backstabbing gossip whose polish is camouflage for malice. Each character is given a seemingly admiring build up, only to be savaged by a scurrilous and scandalous focus on such vulgar vices as foul-mouthed language, fornication, drug addiction and avarice. The film-makers, who are much less talented than their subjects, seem to be saying that the price a great artist must pay for his gift is to be thought of as a guttersnipe. The lurid images presented are a blight upon the memory of some of the great blues artists of all time.

I've met several of the named individuals depicted and don't see any connection between the real life persons and the ones presented on screen. To give you an idea of how far off the mark the film is, in over 40 years of being a devoted blues fan I have never once heard a blues musician or another fan use profanity of any kind, while in the dialogue of the film profanity is closer to being the rule rather than the exception. The film-makers had the option of highlighting any dramatic aspect of their subject's lives that they could think of, and chose to devote an enormous amount of attention to ugly, unimportant and possibly non-existent details, showing incredibly poor artistic judgment.

I don't doubt that the makers of "Cadillac Records" had the advice of attorneys before they put their travesty on screen and that they will claim, if challenged, that the incidents presented are all true to life. But I very strongly doubt that they'd be able to present convincing proof of some of the more objectionable content, which I believe may have been based on questionable rumors, mere anecdotes or unsubstantiated gossip. One thing at least is terribly clear: whatever the facts are, the emphasis is entirely wrong. The great Chess recording stars were not stupid, lecherous, violent or greedy; they were popular geniuses beloved of millions of people all over the world, which is how they must be remembered. Don't see this awful film if you can possibly avoid it.
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4/10
Blues and soul
Prismark106 October 2014
Cadillac Records will give you an introduction to the story of some of the blues legends and the story of Chess Records. Chess records became known as Cadillac records as co-founder Leonard Chess paid his musicians by Cadillac's instead of cash.

The film is based on true events but many liberties have been taken with the truth. The story focuses on Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody) no mention is made of his brother who founded the record label with him or their experience in working with musicians on a previous record label.

Chess takes on talented blues musicians such as Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Little Walter, Howlin Wolf and later Etta James (Beyonce.) Chess guides them but also rips them off by taking shares of their royalties or leaving them destitute although Howlin Wolf did OK financially.

Much is made of Muddy Waters and then later Etta James and a fledgling affair with Chess. However the more interesting characters are Chuck Berry (Mos Def) and especially Howlin Wolf (Eamonn Walker) and they are underused.

The film is nicely made, a mix of music, racism, getting to the top, addiction, violence and financial destitution. The usual type of ingredients for these types of films but nothing really stands out. The writing and direction is beige, almost like a glorified television film with some bad language.
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1/10
Terrible
Sergio Tariq10 September 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Whilst there are some good performances in this film, Eamonn Walker for example who dominates the screen whenever he is on it and Mos Def as Chuck Berry, it is impossible to look past the director's distortion of history. Martin has for some reason decided that the real stories of the artists and founders of Chess Records were not interesting enough so she essentially makes everything up. She adds relationships where there were none, attributes a murder to Little Walter because a man toured under his name, mixes up chronology, barely touches on the finances and leaves out major figures from the story. It also seems as they could not decide which angle to focus upon - jumping from one thing to another. There is a great film to be made about the subject - this is not it.

To some extent you get used to filmmakers changing things for dramatic purpose but this is so overdone as to be ridiculous.
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5/10
A Vegas Tribute Band Has More Soul
brotherdeacon23 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Yet another musician-based biopic, sad but true. It's a musical recreation of early recording artists at Chess Records circa 1950-1960's, the Chicago Blues' holiest temple. Marquee roles include Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Etta James, Howlin' Wolf and Chuck Berry. Pulling strings from behind the glass is owner/macher, Leonard Chess. Unfortunately, Hollywood can even f**k up the blues. In it's profligate grab for cash, the executives seem to have found a formula which entails hiring music and film stars to pose and emote for an hour and a half in order to sell a soundtrack. Do they teach this stuff at USC film school? Or does the new breed bypass appreciation of the medium altogether? Is it all dollars and cents? For every good bit of casting, such as Jeffrey Wright in the role of Muddy Waters, there are countless others who flail around, mug, grimace, bleed, and of course sing. Adrian Brody will not remember this role as a hallmark in his career. At what point did the director, Darnell Martin, throw up her hands and quit caring? Contracting Beyonce to fill the role of Etta James is like casting a Persian kitten with dyed tips to play a bloody-mouthed mother lion growling her need across the hot nighttime skies. Whoever made this movie should be ashamed. Hell, I'm ashamed and I only watched it.

This movie is so bad it will probably make money. The producers know their market: youthful audiences aroused by celebrity casts (Mos Def, Beyonce), and older fans enticed by the Blues legends of their youth. We need look no farther than the recent box office success of similar films including Taylor Hackford's "Ray," James Mangold's "I Walk the Line," and Bill Condon's "Dreamgirls." Each one focusing on the recording industry with its supply of soundtrack hits, stars and prestigious awards. This movie sips from that same well.

Cadillac Records borrows heavily from those films, but lacks any focus. It's a compendium of characters, songs, sub-plots in search of a main thread. They'd probably have achieved their ends more successfully by making "Muddy," thereby concentrating on one major luminary instead of an entire stable of acts. Or "Etta," since R and B is a more commercially popular and viable commodity in 2009 than the three-chord limitations of Chicago Blues. In fact Cadillac Records tried to fit about 5 biopics into one, which was an unfortunate conception.

A tribute lounge band in Las Vegas gives more integrity to the Chicago legends than this movie does. There's something so soulless and imitative about it, as if it were written, filmed, edited and finished by a cell of marketing executives bent on scraping every last dollar out of its tired carcass.
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5/10
Great Music, Fine Performances, but Weak Script
Stephen Alfieri18 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"Cadillac Records" has the best music and musical performances of any film this year. Happily, there is plenty of music on display that brings to light a sound that has been long overlooked by Hollywood. For this I applaud the filmmakers efforts.

The problem with "Cadillac Records", in my opinion, is that the story is too big, with too many big personalities, and Darnell Martin simply is not up to the task of writing or directing such a story. Especially when the lead character (Adrien Brody) is given little to do except introduce all of the characters to each other. The drama is forced and unbelievable. It's as if a four hour documentary is trying to be forced into a 110 minute film. It's disjointed and you never get emotionally involved, either with the story or the characters. You never even learn what drives Lee Chess to want to record this music. The movie seems to exist only for the purpose of putting the music on display.

And actually, that's okay. The music is so good, and the performances of the musicians so honest, you want to here much more of it. Jeffrey Wright is marvelous as Muddy Waters, as is Mos Def as Chuck Berry, and Gabrielle Union as Geneva Wade. Columbus Short and Eammonn Walker are standouts as Little Walter and Howlin' Wolf, respectively.

Beyonce Knowles sings Etta James with all of the feeling and soul that you would expect, but she's over the top in her acting. Not that she's bad, she's just not very good.

Adrien Brody is wasted in a thankless role. He brings the individual pieces together, but his scenes have no real dramatic impact.

If you're thinking of going to see this film, don't. You'll get much more of a reward by just getting the soundtrack.

5 out of 10
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8/10
The music is the story of Cadillac Records Warning: Spoilers
(Synopsis) This movie is based on the true story of how a small music recording studio, Chess Records, located on the south side of Chicago, began recording blues music with Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright) and Little Walter (Columbus Short) in 1947, and eventually gave birth to rock and roll in 1955 with Chuck Berry (Mos Def). Record producer, Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody) has an ear for this different type of music, and believes he can cash in by signing up new talent such as songwriter, Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer), Howlin' Wolf (Eamonn Walker), and Etta James (Beyonce Knowles). Leonard Chess makes all of his artist part of his family and takes care of them. This is not an easy job for him, because they spend a small fortune on booze, drugs, and the high life. When Chuck Berry goes to jail, Leonard is able to find another talented performer, Etta James, to take his place. In the late sixties, as their music goes out of favor, Leonard Chess gets out of the record business.

(My Comment) This story is not a documentary of Chess Records, but a story about their music. The movie title, 'Cadillac Records,' comes from the fact that Leonard Chess would buy his musicians a new Cadillac when they recorded their first hit record and for each new hit. What the artists didn't know was that the cars were being paid from their record royalties. Leonard Chess treated his artists as family, and the line between business and family sometimes causes conflict between them. If you go to see Beyonce in the movie, you may be disappointed, because she only has a limited amount of screen time with about 3 songs. However, you won't be disappointed by her performance and that of Jeffrey Wright. They make you believe they are Etta James and Muddy Waters, and they actually sing their wonderful songs in the movie. The film can only tell a small part of each artist's story in short scenes, but they are very powerful scenes. (Sony Pictures, Run Time 1:48, Rated R)(8/10)
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2/10
This boring, superficial movie could've been better. TQS Breakdown PROS/CONS
TheQuietStorm7 December 2008
1. It was a necessary history lesson for young people in understanding where most of today's music originated from.(PRO)

2. Jeffrey Wright gave a good performance as Muddy Waters. He was amusing at times with enough mystique to make him interesting without making him a total bafflement.(PRO)

3. Mos Def was good as Chuck Berry. This had plenty to do with the fact that his character was the most engaging. He was witty and talented, possessing most of the film's admirable qualities.(PRO)

4. Beyonce gave her best performance to date. She was captivating at times. Seductive.(PRO)

========================================

1. I was bored. The movie took too long for anything real to happen. The first thirty minutes played like an uneventful montage between Chess and Waters.(CON)

2. The characters were all one dimensional. Every single one of them. They were as much developed as characters in dramatizations one would see on "America's Most Wanted." In fact, the whole film felt like one big dramatization about the rise and fall of Cadillac Records. The dots never connected.(CON)

3. I didn't engage with any of the characters. In other words, I couldn't care less. Oh, your father doesn't want anything to do with you? I don't care. Are the police working you over for being a loud mouth? I don't care. You feel slighted because your husband is out having babies with other women? (yawn) Get in line. I know there were too many characters to develop them all fully and appropriately, in which case the story should have focused on the necessary few. In some cases, they all seem to be doing something that made me disconnect from them even more, like the kid Little Walters. I had a problem with everything he did. He would act out and do cowardly things to people. Where were the humanistic qualities in most of them? They all seem to be looking out for themselves, except for Muddy Waters. I never pitied any of them. They were flawed but we never go to know their inner, personal or extra-personal conflicts. And they seemed to be predictable.(CON)

4. The transitions were not smooth at all. The story and editing together felt choppy, erratic and disjointed. This goes back to my point about the film never "connecting the dots." One minute we're here, the next we're there, cutting a time we needed to understand or see simple yet eventful things like Chess getting married.(CON)

5. Adrian Brody's performance was mediocre at best in a futile effort to breath life into a character without focus. I knew I was in trouble in the first scene, with him staring in the wake of a Polish father dragging his daughter away from him. He uttered something about one day his wife "will drive a Cadillac," the worst execution of a line in Brody's career.(CON)

6. Too much musical number scenes and not enough story. It wasn't a musical. So, what's with the constant music being played? Also, the music was so loud it clouded out the already difficult to make-out dialogue. The sound mixer should have been replaced with one who understands the necessity of dialogue in a film like this.(CON)

7. The rest of the performances were not good at all. Gabrielle Union's facial expressions made her look like she was going mad instead of being emotional about her circumstances. And what's that thing she does with her lips folded in? Columbus Short was terrible. Cedric the Entertainer was just... there. Emmanuelle Chriqui looked like she was asking in her mind, "Why am I here?"

8. I didn't believe the whole atmosphere of the film. I mean, the over all film had no life. I guess this was responsible for me being bored. I blame the writer/director.(CON)

9. Beyonce's best wasn't enough. I said it was her best performance but it wasn't very good in my opinion. When she wasn't captivating and seductive, she was whiny and boring. In the scene at the restaurant, Etta exploded in rage, throwing a glass at the floor and for that brief moment, it felt like I was watching Effie White from "Dreamgirls." The voice, the tone, the execution of the line as she breaks the glass. Besides that one unique moment of her list of underwhelming beats, she was flat and her character was all over the place. I see, like in "Dreamgirls," she still have trouble staying in the moment for a whole scene. There will be a flash of Etta James or whomever she was impersonating, then it'll be Beyonce trying to act the rest of the way. Her performance and character was inconsistent. But, she was very easy on the eyes.(CON)

IN CLOSING: I was constantly asking myself about these characters, "What does he/she want and how is he/she trying to get it?" There was never any real inciting incident and the ending was anti-climatic. And for all those who are betting their home on Beyonce winning an Oscar for her performance in this film, let me be the one to save you all from being homeless in what appears to be the coldest winter in years (at least those that live in cold places like the NYC). Not only will Beyonce NOT win an Oscar for this, she will also be overlooked for a nomination by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
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4/10
Could have been so much better
les69695 January 2010
This could have been a much better film than it was. I agree with others on here about the many inaccuracies. Brody was totally miscast and failed to show the greedy producer who ripped off his acts that Chess really was. I actually thought Beyonce did a good job and she sure can sing but the flirtation with Brody just didn't work and as has been pointed out never happened. Best character was the guy playing Chuck Berry, but he was under used and there should really be a whole film about Mr Berry anyway. I loved the bit where Chuck was arrested for being taking underage girls across the state line and he says 'Are we stopping off at Jerry Lee's house, I hear he married his 13 year old cousin?' So I see this film as a missed opportunity and for those who don't like too much swearing, I suggest you avoid this film as it is just full of it ( in more ways than one )
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5/10
A hugely disappointing bundle of clichés
u2nspenserfan10 April 2009
When I saw the previews for this film, I was thrilled at the prospect of a film about some very under-appreciated musicians - the blues men and women who set the stage for rock 'n' roll. However, this film may have been the most disappointing ever for me.

This movie was so historically inaccurate that, as I watched it, I started getting angry at the injustice being done. It was full of stereotypes, cardboard cutouts of these larger-than-life musicians. Howlin' Wolf in particular was cut into a hayseed with a love for rusty trucks and bib overalls. Also, almost all of these musicians made it big in Memphis, not Chicago. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that this isn't on the same planet as the truth.

The storyline and writing were no better. The storyline has holes you could park a Cadillac in (excuse the pun) and the writing was laughably clichéd.

I will say that whoever did casting did a good job, and the film was pretty well acted despite the awful dialog.

I love this music and am fascinated by this period in music's history, but this movie did it no justice at all.
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6/10
Another okay movie from Hollywood
judy7 December 2008
I guess I just have to face it Hollywood is devoid of good dialog writers and writers in general. Cadillac Records should have been Dreamgirls for the Blues, but the dialog was much too weak to support the tremendous talent that was on the scene. Though the music was nice it was the stories of the principals that should have shined but all they seemed to be able to do was curse and give off quick one liners. My husband forgot about the movie an hour after we left the theater; a sure sign of its weakness. I don't blame Beyonnce, I can understand her not wanting to wait for Hollywood to give out good Black Female roles. I also feel sorry for the likes of Gabrielle Union (also Angela Bassett who I saw in a trailer for another ridiculous movie tragedy). These women deserve better and so do the other great music geniuses of Chess Records. 6/10
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4/10
Unlike the blues, this movie is bullshit.
toprak_artu6 January 2009
Unlike the blues, this movie is bullshit. Did they try to "hip hop" the story, was that the idea? Guess what, it didn't work.

Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf were not Achilleus and Hector. True, Muddy Waters thought Howling Wolf was plain stupid, and they had conflict of interest but that was just a detail in Chicago Blues Era. It was not what the scriptwriter intended it to be: Drama 101: Create Conflict!

Put aside that, those people were true artists. Did they want to buy a Cadillac and get the girls, sure, why not. But that was not the bottomline of their story. The music was not "a way to make ends meet" in that sense. They sang that. They do not sing that.
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4/10
If you are not a fan of this type of music....
MLDinTN28 September 2009
like me, then you probably won't think this movie is that great. I had only heard of 2 of the acts shown in this movie, Chuck Berry and Etta James. And of those 2, Chuck Berry is the only one with some good songs and his character wasn't in the movie much and Etta James doesn't show up till the movie is half over. The main character is Muddy Waters, whom I know nothing about, so I didn't find his story very interesting. And Adrien Brody still has not been in a role any where near as good as the one he won the Oscar for.

FINAL VERDICT: It was too long and I'm not a fan of these type of songs, so I don't recommend it.
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5/10
Good movie, but lacks era accuracy
acoia5819 March 2009
In my opinion, this movie is pretty good, for a Hollywood "biography". We all know how historically accurate those kind of movies are. The music is good. Although Chuck Berry was poorly portrayed. Those 50's Cadillacs are fabulous! The thing that I disliked the most in this movie was the lack of using the proper cars for the year portrayed. Example: 1941- there was a 1950 Mercury.1947- many mid-'50s cars were there. 1955- there were 1957-58 Cadillacs.

I've seen many movies portraying the past, and most had the details down pretty good. Sadly,not this one.

If this is 1941, don't show props, or cars that didn't even exist in that year! A '50 Merc belongs in 1950 +. A 1958 Cadillac belongs in 1958+, not in 1954! And when they show Muddy Waters in his 1948 Cadillac, they showed the interior of a 1955 Cadillac!

The producers get an "F" on this topic. Other than that, the movie was good.
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7/10
Rock 'n' Roll: Muddy Waters and a cast of several
Brian Wright23 June 2009
At the time, rock and roll is but a gleam in a few unknown musicians' eyes. Through a generous helping of Waters/Walter's and other artists' music—with a fair helping of poetic license—writer/director Darnell Martin tells the relatively unknown story of the headwaters of the river of modern blues and rock and roll. The acting is excellent, and, no doubt, Cadillac Records is Jeffrey Wright's magnum opus to this point. Most viewers will recognize him from roles where he plays "the intelligent black man," and in the movie W, he plays Colin Powell. From the extras on the DVD, one learns that Wright has spent many years, several on stage, honing his craft. And he's good, even great, as the inimitable Muddy. Particularly, he manages the voice well, which is a low, gravelly mumble... though often hard to make out if your air conditioning kicks in.

...

For my complete review of this movie and for other movie and book reviews, please visit my site TheCoffeeCoaster.com.

Brian Wright Copyright 2009
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