Cadillac Records

3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars
With a roster of artists including blues legend Muddy Waters, duck-walking icon Chuck Berry, and gutbucket soul diva Etta James, Chicago’s Chess Records deserves its place in history. It’s worth a documentary series, but here’s a sincere, somewhat ungainly drama which summarises the cultural significance of white entrepreneur Leonard Chess’s operation and samples the musicians’ triumphs and tribulations by laying everything end to end. In story terms, its cavalcade of melodrama and conflict isn’t always persuasive, but writer-director Darnell Martin’s respect for the music shines through, and the parts – some fine performances, an alert eye for ’50s social tensions – are often more striking than the whole.

While it’s more interested in the legend than the facts, the movie nails the bind facing black performers, who needed the likes of Chess (Adrien Brody) to release records, yet fell foul of sharp accounting in the process. Jeffrey Wright’s imposing Muddy Waters is delighted, like his stablemates, to be rewarded with a Cadillac, but his boss keeps schtum that his royalties paid for it. Since Chess had a genius for talent-spotting, the movie cuts him a little slack, though it dwells too much on his more than professional interest in the troubled, voluptuous James (Beyoncé Knowles, nuanced and credible). Her searing vocalising takes pride of place on the lovingly recreated soundtrack, which misses the raw electricity of the Chess recordings but, like the film, is good enough to drive you to the peerless originals.

By: Trevor Johnston



Release details

Release date:
Friday February 20 2009
108 mins

Cast and crew

Darnell Martin
Darnell Martin
Adrien Brody
Jeffrey Wright
Beyoncé Knowles
Eamonn Walker
Mos Def
Gabrielle Union
Columbus Short
Cedric the Entertainer
Emmanuelle Chriqui
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