out of Five
Running time: 115
Enjoyable whizz through a chapter of musical history, with a terrific soundtrack and great performances across the board.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Darnell Martin, Cadillac Records chronicles the rise of Chess Records and the birth of musical legends such as Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Howlin' Wolf (Eamonn Walker), Little Walter (Columbus Short), Chuck Berry (Mos Def) and Etta James (Beyonce Knowles). Partly narrated by songwriter / bandleader Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer), the film centres on the partnership between musical impresario Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody) and Muddy Waters, beginning with their auspicious meeting in 1947.
Martin's script has a lot of ground to cover, but he does a fantastic job, leaving you with the overall impression of having spent a couple of hours flicking through an illustrated chapter of musical history, rather than say, immersing yourself in a biography of any one particular artist. He's aided by some snappy editing, his own pacey direction and a host of terrific performances.
It seems unfair to single out any particular actor, but Beyonce Knowles is sensational as Etta James, particularly during her stunning rendition of I'd Rather Go Blind. Similarly, Columbus Short is superb as the fiery Little Walter, Mos Def has a great time as Chuck Berry and Eamonn Walker makes a powerul impression as Howlin' Wolf (who has a fierce rivalry with Waters).
In addition, the film is beautifully shot, with crisp cinematography by Anastas Michos and impressive production design throughout. It also goes without saying that the film has a fabulous soundtrack.
To be fair, Cadillac Records is definitely guilty of dipping into The Big Book Of Musical Biopic Cliches and there are a few dodgy lines of dialogue (look out for an unintentionally hilarious cameo by "The Rolling Stones"), but the direction and performances are more than strong enough to make up for the occasional lapse.
Cadillac Records is a wonderfully acted, well written and impressively directed musical multi-biopic with some surprisingly powerful emotional moments, thanks to strong performances and a terrific soundtrack. Highly recommended.