Cadillac Records **
Directed by Darnell Martin
Written by Darnell Martin
Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess
Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters
Gabrielle Union as Geneva Wade
Columbus Short as Little Walter
Cedric the Entertainer as Willie Dixon
Emmanuelle Chriqui as Revetta Chess
Mos Def as Chuck Berry
Beyonce Knowles as Etta James
Rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality.
"Cadillac Records" tells the story of popular record label 'Chess Records,' as well as several small biopics revolving around Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Etta James, and a few other blues recording artists. Imagine a standard musician biopic-films like "Ray" or "Walk the Line," where it appears that every single musician seems to have the same life. They hit it big, get washed up in the fame and fortune, and the find themselves finding solace in the hands of women and drugs. And by watching that happen to several people in this film takes away from the drama and focuses more on the conventional methods of telling life stories. And its simply getting tiring. But, as is the case with most conventional biopics, it is impossible to detest because there is some great music to background the drama. Great music should not be a reason to recommend a film, but it is something that takes "Cadillac Records" out of the pit and give it enough life to attempt to sustain itself, even when a lame screenplay and a few good performances are not enough.
The film centers on the partnership between Leonard Chess and Muddy Waters, who go into business to produce Chess Records. As a young man, and hated by his girlfriend's father who claimed he would never make anything with his life, Leonard puts in everything that he has to make sure the label is a success, and gambles his comfortable life with his wife, Revetta, and their little baby. Muddy marries Geneva, but that does not stop him from being unfaithful with various women on the road. The film also centers on the rise and fall of Chuck Berry, whose career was somewhat cut short after some problems with the law, and Etta James, who falls for Leonard and also finds herself mixed up with a few drugs, which never effect her magnificent voice that stuns Leonard everytime that she sings for him.
The two best performances in the film come from Adrian Brody and Jeffrey Wright, who have a few great moments of chemistry that are underexploited by the director. Mos Def also does good work as Chuck Berry, and he's another actor who is underworked, but every now and then does a real great job in the role he's given-such as "Be Kind Rewind" earlier in the year. Beyonce Knowles approaches every performance as if she wants to win an award, and this is even more true after Jennifer Hudson was more successful than her in "Dreamgirls." And it shows. And its distracting. Instead of disappearing into the role of Etta James, which can provide much drama considering the conventions of biopics that this film has, it was just obvious that she was trying to get accolades instead of simply doing it for the work.
But the music! Oh the music! The sounds of Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Little Walter-it was impossible not to be involved in the great blues/jazz music playing almost constantly on the soundtrack. And if one goes to see "Cadillac Records" solely to hear some great sounds, than they will certainly get something out of it. For great drama, or even great performances, or anything worthwhile in the technical department, you will be highly underwhelmed. Listening to a CD at home may be more worthwhile than seeing the film in the theatres, which lacks in anything involving because it does not attempt to do anything new with the genre. Films like "Ray" or "Walk the Line" were successful because of their great lead performances, which added with the music made them imperative to see at their times of release. But "Cadillac Records" tries to coast its way through, and for that it will be long forgotten by year's end, and may disappear by next year.