Cadillac Records - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Cadillac Records Reviews

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Super Reviewer
August 12, 2012
A white record producer signs African-American musicians, and together the foundations of rock n roll are formed.
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.
Super Reviewer
March 26, 2009
If you take the ride, you must pay the price.

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.
Super Reviewer
½ November 13, 2011
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.
Super Reviewer
March 11, 2009
According to my friends who know a lot about the Delta Blues, Chess Records and Chicago, this is a very accurate historical film. That it's narrated by Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer) and features Mos Def as a striking Chuck Berry helps, Beyonce got her hands - voice - on some Etta James standards, and Eamonn Walker was no less than fantastic as Howlin' Wolf.

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.
Super Reviewer
½ December 20, 2009
Great music but a draggy diffuse screenplay weighs this down and makes it seem longer than it really is.
Super Reviewer
½ January 10, 2010
Decent rock n roll movie.
Super Reviewer
½ November 6, 2009
as far as docu-dramas go, this is a darned good one - perhaps it's because the subject matter is close to my heart, and perhaps it's because you get to hear re-worked versions of all those great 50's songs.

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.
Super Reviewer
½ December 2, 2008
I love this biopic story of the 1950s Chicago's Chess Records, the label that was home to black artists by the most influential music producer, Leonard Chess (Adrian Brody). Unlike other music biopics that concentrate on single artists, this ambitious, episodic film is a compilation of the legendary Blues musicians attached to the label, complete with some novelty casting like Mof Def as Chuck Berry, Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters and Beyonce Knowles as Etta James.
Super Reviewer
July 26, 2009
Check this one out.. Pretty good.. it gets and O for Awsome ^_^
Super Reviewer
½ December 24, 2008
This was an interesting look at rockandroll and Blues at its best...I felt like I had watched this movie before though. It didnt really seem original! Adrien Brody was great AAAAS always! Beyonce wasnt bad either! But it seemed like the same movie as Dream Girls...Her voices is always SPOT ON AND PERFECT! soo clear and she's very good at letting her emotions come though to song.

Just not that Fresh, but not terrible.
Mr Awesome
Super Reviewer
January 31, 2009
After "Ray" and "Walk the Line", and now "Cadillac Records", it's become apparent to me that the great musical innovators of our past really were great: that they could create such masterworks of music, and only donate a small percentage of their time to creating it, is quite an achievement. An even greater achievement in the face of their personal lives, which seem quite frankly, a mess. Where did they ever get the time to write such great songs, while at the same time constantly delivering powerful soliquies and having dramatic confrontations with their loved ones? How did they find the time to learn to play their respective instruments, while engaging in self-destructive behavior and breaking down emotionally over complex "daddy" issues? Perhaps these films lie. No, I don't believe that men who lived 50 and 60 years ago are "just like us". No, I don't believe Little Walter went around "bustin' caps on stupidass niggaz, yo". I don't believe these actors when they get in front of a camera and "emote" and "act". Can't we have our heroes portrayed as the real people they were? I know bio pics are dramatic, but can't we have the drama come from the events of life, not the people themselves? The single, solitary shining light in this movie is Mos Def's hilariously accurate portrayal of Chuck Berry. He somehow captured the essence of the man beautifully (I wish they had just made a movie about Chuck starring Mos Def, that would've been a much more worthwhile endeavor). The biggest offender is Beyonce, who ham-fists her way through both Etta James' music and her life. The musical performances by the actors of this film are a general disappointment throughout: only Howlin Wolf's portrayer seems to nail that rasp of his (Wright's Muddy Waters is especially atrocious and bland- if Muddy really sang like that he never would've been famous). I don't know much about the Chess family, but from all accounts this movie took great liberties with the story. I can excuse historical inaccuracies, I can't excuse hammy acting.
Super Reviewer
½ December 10, 2008
read the reviews previous to watching this but, as i hale from chitown (my secret sordid big city past!), felt it a requirement to attend this...this waste of time. don't you make the same mistake, not for any reason. if one must endure this then i might say that, okay, there are indeed moments of redemption, but they only happen whenever you leave the room...
Super Reviewer
½ October 20, 2009
I'm still stunned that this film suggested the Beach Boys and Rolling Stones rose to stardom before Elvis Presley. That's just completely unpardonable.
Super Reviewer
January 9, 2009
I'm a little flummoxed by some of the this-movie-is-amazing reviews... It's a good, solid biopic-y treatment of a great time in music, with some truly terrific performances. But a fairly mediocre script and some really not-great direction make it a completely average movie. Sorry, A.O. Scott.
Super Reviewer
December 7, 2008
[font=Century Gothic]Based on a true story, "Cadillac Records" is an anecdotal movie starting in 1941 about the legendary Chess Records founded by Leonard Chess(Adrien Brody) as a way of finding the American dream, which he personally saw in the body of a Cadillac which he would give to all of the musicians he signed, the first being the great blues musician Muddy Waters(Jeffrey Wright). In time, he would also sign Little Walter(Columbus Short), Chuck Berry(Mos Def), Howlin' Wolf(Eamonn Walker) and Etta James(Beyonce Knowles).(A movie could be made about any one of these musicians.) Along with being great musicians, they were also larger than life personalities, and the movie does not sugarcoat their lives, especially Chess who never played by the rules and may have shortchanged his musicians. But they were never so wronged as by the white and English musicians they would influence and who would steal their music from them.[/font]

[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]
Super Reviewer
½ April 30, 2011
On the plus side you have an excellent cast, with a script that excels in its' dialogue and authenticity. At the same time, there are a lot of clichés, and the story attempts to bite off more than it can chew, sometimes giving it a disjointed feel. Still, an entertaining and informative piece.
Super Reviewer
½ January 10, 2010
The performances and the music are 2 big reasons to check out this film. They did a great job casting this ensemble. I am still surprised that it never got any Oscar nominations for any of the performances in the film. Brody and Wright shine in the film. Beyonce also impresses in this film. Cedric the Entertainer, Gabriel Union, Mos Def, and Emmanuelle Chriqui provide solid support. The only negative is that the pacing is off. The first 20 minutes is too slow, however, after that the film picks up.
Super Reviewer
March 13, 2009
The birth of Rock and Roll was said ti have created from the blues...Without Etta Fitzgerald, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Little Walter...just to name a few...there wouldn't have been Elvis, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin....are just to name a few...this is their story with Leonard Chess as the manager of Chess Records. What a good story...see it if you are interested.
Super Reviewer
½ August 15, 2009
Very watchable film with a great soundtrack about the beginnings of Chess records in Philadelphia in the 50's. Jeffrey Wright (brilliant in Basqiat) does a great Muddy Waters, Beyonce has a good go at Etta James and Mos Def, charming as ever, plays Mos Def pretending to be Chuck Berry.
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