August 14, 2009
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on August 2009
This ensemble film is based on the true story of Chicago’s Chess Records, from its founding in the mid ’50s through the mid ’70s, when Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody) got out of the business. It dramatizes, with varying degrees of success, the early careers (and of course problems—drink, dope, dames) of such luminaries as Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Howlin’ Wolf (Eamonn Walker), Little Walter (Columbus Short) Chuck Berry (Mos Def) and Etta James (Beyoncé). This is a lot to cram in to an hour and 50 minutes, and the film seems simultaneously rambling and rushed, pausing only occasionally to flesh out a character or two. Any one of these performers could be the basis for a movie. One minute you’re saying, “This is good,” and the next you’re yawning. But even though the drama and writing alternates between adequate and awful, you go to movies like this for the music, and here it ranges from inspiring to incredible (they even play many of the songs all the way through). Cadillac Records is, after all, the story of the creation and evolution of nothing less than rock ‘n’ roll.