Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cadillac Records

Directed by Darnell Martin.
2008. Rated R, 109 minutes.
Adrien Brody
Jeffrey Wright
Columbus Short
Beyonce Knowles
Eammon Walker
Emmanuelle Chriqui
Cedric the Entertainer
Gabrielle Union

Plot: The history of Chess Records, home to Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Muddy Waters (Wright), Little Walter (Short), Howlin' Wolf (Eamonn Walker), Etta James (Knowles), Chuck Berry (Mos Def) and label owner Leonard Chess (Brody). It was also known as Cadillac Records because Chess would often buy his artists brand new Cadillacs.

The Good: This is a lively affair that merrily bounces along. The movie effectively uses music to create wonderful scenes and to bridge one scene to the next. That music starts with Muddy's down-home blues, moves on to Berry's pioneering Rock and Roll sound and James' heart-wrenching ballads. The acting is a major plus. Jeffrey Wright continues to make me believe he's perhaps the most underrated actor working today. He fully inhabits his characters and does the same for Muddy Waters. Brody is solid as ever. Columbus Short (of Stomp the Yard and Quarantine), whom I was losing faith in, delivers his best performance as does R&B superstar Beyonce Knowles. She ably portrays James as a woman who attempts to mask her fragility with tough talk and tough drugs. The cast also includes Gabrielle Union (as Muddy's wife Geneva) and Emmanuelle Chriqui (as Chess' wife Revetta).

The Bad: It's way too fast. It keeps the accelerator to the floor and rarely lets up. That's fine for an uproarious comedy or a thrill-a-minute action flick. For a drama that's trying to recreate larger-than-life personas and obviously wants us to feel their joy and pain, it's not. Instead of us really identifying with these people and going through the highs and lows with them, it often feels like old-school newreel journalism. We get a bunch of quick scenes in chronological order as we're told in a cold, clincal manner "this happens, then this, then this and this and this, the end." We never get attached enough to be happy or sad for them. For a movie about people who reached deep into their souls to create beautiful music, it has surprisingly little soul of its own.

The Ugly: Little Walter making sure no one steals his name.

Recommendation: CR is a fun little movie because it showcases the music and has some great acting. If it weren't so hell-bent on getting to the end as quickly as possible and really digging into the emotions that went into making the music, it would've been a real winner. As it is, it's decent but forgettable.

The Opposite View: Christopher Tookey, Daily Mail (UK)

What the Internet Says: 6.7/10 on (9/8/10), 67% on, 65/100 on

MY SCORE: 6/10

Sidenote: Separate movies on any of these people could be great but I would particularly like to see one about Chuck Berry.

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