December 9, 2008

Movie Review: Cadillac Records

cadillacrecords1_smallI am a metal fan at heart, but have occasionally taken excursions into other genres, but I always find myself coming back to my comfort zone. I am actually much more likely to try different styles and genres of film than I am music. I think it has something to do with the sheer volume of different music, and the fact there is a lot that I just have no interest in. Well, my desire to travel back to the 1950's and 1960's blues and R&B sounds has always lurked at the back of my mind, but I have not yet made the time. It is with this in the back of my head that I went to see Cadillac Records. I figured, even if the movie is bad, there should at least be some good music. There was in deed.

Cadillac Records centers on Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody), a young man with big dreams, first of opening a club, and then upon a meeting with Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), a record producer. This film chronicles the rise of Chess Records, a company that was funded by insurance money when a mysterious fire took down Chess' night club. He founded the company on the strength of Muddy Waters and Little Walter, creating hit record after hit record.

cadillacrecordspic7As the years go by, Chess showed a continuing penchant for discovering or being discovered by all manner of talent including Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer), Howlin' Wolf (Eamonn Walker), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), and Etta James (Beyonce Knowles). The journey we are taken on is not so much about the business as it is about the rise of the music. What a time it was, the music is phenomenal, especially when you consider that much of it was done by the actors themselves.

Writer/director Darnell Martin does a fine job of giving us a snapshot of the lives of so many people in a rather short period of time. This is both a blessing and a curse. Watching these greats work in the studio (albeit in likely dramatized fashion) is the next best thing to actually being there. The blessing is what we get to see and hear, the music, the bits of their lives as they happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right man.

cadillacrecordspic12As for the curse, that proves to be the downfall of the film as a great film and it is the same thing that plagues biopics. As the life of the subject is examined, it is pared down to the big strokes, the high and low-lights of his/her life are what is left behind. Unfortunately, so often these life points become plot beats and they end up being very similar to those that have come before. In Cadillac Records that problem is emphasized by so many figures crowding the film. No, the narrative is not crowded, but it just means less time for each person to get their piece of the story in. It makes for a slightly disappointing experience when the credits begin to role.

Cadillac Records possesses a number of fine performances. Adrien Brody and Jeffrey Wright are strong in the two primary roles of Chess and Waters. Wright, in particular, shines bringing life to Waters on the big screen. Among the supporting cast we get some fine performances as well. I would have to say that two of my favorites were Eamonn Walker as Howlin' Wolf and Mos Def as Chuck Berry. Walker brings Wolf to the screen in imposing fashion, a man of intelligence with an appearance that is just a little bit frightening. Mos Def injects a dose of humor in his brief appearance as Berry, I really wish we got more of him on the screen.

Bottomline. This is definitely a movie to check out, just be prepared to come away with a thirst for more. It is a slice of the era, with no real beginning or end, just a look at what happened during this particular point in time and the lasting impact it had. Well, that and the fact that the music is great.



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