Review by Jack Foley
CHESS Record was responsible for some of the great names in music during the ’50s and ’60s, including Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Etta James. So, it’s little wonder that Darnell Martin’s lively chronicle of how the blues gave way to rock ‘n’ roll sometimes feels like a greatest hits collection of a movie.
That said, Cadillac Records remains an enjoyable, if lightweight, experience that benefits from some terrific music and a talented ensemble cast.
It’s being released by the music arm of Sony Pictures and is also produced by one of its stars, Beyonce Knowles, which explains the emphasis on music.
Adrien Brody and Jeffrey Wright head a strong cast as, respectively, label founder Leonard Chess and blues legend Muddy Waters, the two driving forces behind the revolution.
Both are fine, with Brody’s transformation from under-estimated immigrant dreamer to talented studio head particularly engaging, and Wright contributing some fine moments as the loyal Muddy Waters.
There’s strong support, too, from the likes of Columbus Short, as Little Walter, Beyonce Knowles as Etta James and Mos Def as Chuck Berry – to pick out but three.
Martin’s film, however, could have used a little more substance, as she only really scratches the surface of some of the darker elements of the tale – such as Chess’ feelings for James and just how much he did or didn’t exploit the black musicians of the time.
Waters, too, has enough of a compelling story of his own to warrant a complete movie.
But then Martin does deserve credit for capably juggling so many characters and making you want to find out more about them given that just about everyone on show is a legend in their own regard.
Cadillac Records therefore stands as a triumphant tribute to the music of the time that succeeds in casting a fresh spotlight on a key moment in music history. It’s well worth tuning in.
Running time: 1hr 49mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: July 20, 2009