Cadillac Records

Movie title: Cadillac Records (2008)
Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: R
Summation: Chess Records and its recording artists rise to the top of their game.
Spoilers ahead: No


Occasionally, a film comes along with strong and good performances, but that film ends up losing out for trying to accomplish too much. Cadillac Records nearly sets a record in filling one movie with more than six movies worth of story content. Sandwiched together are stories on the lives of, among others, Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), Little Walters (Columbus Short), and Etta James (Beyoncé Knowles). Leonard Chess (Adrian Brody) starts up a record company and picks up some fresh talent. Together (and sometimes not), they rise to stardom and fame. Sadly, the ride to glory is a bumpy one.

The really sad thing is, not a one of their stories is done justice in this movie because of the sardine can script. The runaway freight train of a plot crams their accomplishments together in a way in which none of these entertainers can be showcased to their full potential. As a result, you don’t feel a deep connection with anyone. You feel sorry for their victimization and their being subjected to the racism and bigotry of the time, and you nod your head in respect when they become stars, but no more than you would any new acquaintance whom you just met and heard made it big.

There’s music (loads of it) and if you like it, maybe you’ll have an easier time. But there’s soooo much music—more music than movie. There are tiring ins and outs of music and then story, music and then story, music and then story. There’s little time to get close to anyone.

There are powerful acting jobs. There are personal flaws, like bad tempers and drinking problems, some infuriating scenes of hatred against blacks by white cops (very well-done scenes, I might add). There is the continual reminder for the audience that the road to success is a hard one, so hard that the struggle can lead to drugs, alcoholism, the destruction of families, and unhappiness with the sought-after fame.

Yeah, yeah, we know all that. What we’d like to have known is how these famous musicians and their families were when not fighting each other or else fighting off adulterous temptations, pulling guns on people and getting kicked out of clubs, doing drugs and alcohol, excessively spending money on new houses and Cadillacs, and getting beaten by racist cops. We don’t get any of that. What we get is an “I’m singing and I can’t shut up” presentation and a gloomy aura about how fame is not really worth it. That’s what I got from it.

Why try to be great? Why shoot for the stars? The rewards of trying sure do suck. What did the creators of Cadillac Records want me to come away with, having scene their movie? Was I supposed to jam out to the tunes along with the film and say to myself: “Those were the days”? Was I supposed to say: “So that’s how the famous Cadillac Records got its start”? Was I supposed to be in awe of their fame? Their lives were all but miserable, and their fortune seemed to be limited to a few years of being able to buy new cars. The message of the movie is never clear. Good performances don’t make it a particularly attractive film.

It’s a flavorless movie, being more infuriating than interesting and more sad than entertaining. It just goes to show that not every production involving high levels of drama is effective. If you dig the tunes of the artists, just buy the music. Forget the movie.



Director: Darnell Martin
Starring: Adrien Brody “Leonard Chess,” Jeffrey Wright “Muddy Waters,” Gabrielle Union “Geneva Wade,” Columbus Short “Little Walter,” Cedric the Entertainer “Willie Dixon,” Emmanuelle Chriqui “Revetta Chess,” Eamonn Walker “Howlin' Wolf,” Mos Def “Chuck Berry,” Beyoncé Knowles “Etta James”
Genre: Drama/biography