Cadillac Records Reviews
I suppose the lesson of this biopic is that when one isn't racist in a racist world, one stands to benefit. That is the only discernible advantage that Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody) has over others, yet we don't know enough about Chess or why he is as he is.
A commonality among these characters is their penchant for extramarital sex, but Chuck Berry's prison sentence notwithstanding, this behavior doesn't make a plot-driving point or a matter of serious conflict.
In the end, Cadillac Records is a music film, with the race relations subplot only tangential, so whether or not you like this film with depend upon whether you like the musical performances by Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Mos Def as Chuck Berry, and Beyonce Knowles as Etta James. I thought they were good, but I'm not a great judge.
Overall, the plot of this film doesn't do a lot - an odd combination of social commentary about 50s race relations and interpersonal affairs - but those of you who like the origins of rock n roll might find the performances, if not the story, compelling.
Good but not so great. 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!
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.
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.
And yet, I wasn't all that satisfied with this film. I can't really explain it. I think Adrien Brody was a little flat, and on the whole the film lands on the cheesy side. I think it was just too glossy to be believed - despite its being true. A good film, not as great as it might have been though.
It was fun for me to rub elbows with Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and Etta James, and the imagining of the discovery of the unknown territory (later coined Rock And Roll) was marvelous.
Beyonce as Etta James was a marvel, encompassing everything from her brassy exterior and tinted hair to her underlying vulnerablility and soft cruves.
The story ark was hardly compelling and there was a certain unflinching "let's move on to the next shot" feel to the film, but for all that, there were enough flashes of brilliance to make this a very worthwhile viewing.
There were certainly hints of underhanded deals by the record company, but that ended up being glossed over, even when it could have given much more tension to the action - perhaps fear of defamation by Chess's estate? Too bad as the angle of racial useury could have been racheted up.
Many interesting musical tid-bits to consider: When Chuck Berry heard "surfin' USA" on the radio and realized it was a note for note rip-off of Sweet Lil 16. Also the voice over by Willie Dixon explaining how his song Hoochie Koochie Man created a persona for Muddy Waters. All priceless pearls.
Just not that Fresh, but not terrible.
[font=Century Gothic]In its attempt to fit all of this into one movie, "Cadillac Records" develops a peculiarly wonky sense of time(Elvis Presley came before the Beach Boys, right?) where nobody seems to get any older, despite it taking place over a couple of decades. The movie works best in fits and bursts, even with this talented cast. Mos Def was born to play Chuck Berry. Walker and Wright have a certain intense chemistry playing opposites. But the air goes out of the room whenever Knowles makes an appearance and I have a hard time deciding whether it is the writing or the performance. In the end, what matters is the music which is simply sensational. [/font]