They’ve Got the Blues

3 Dec

Cadillac Records tells the story of the influential Chess Records label, founded by Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody) in Chicago in the 1950s, and home to such legendary artists as Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Little Walter (Columbus Short), and Etta James (Beyoncé Knowles).

The film includes all the essentials of the musical biopic, including sex, drugs, and a sketchy manager-type — the title comes from Chess’ habit of paying off his successful artists with Cadillacs, instead of giving them the money they’re rightfully earned.

But it also includes one other very important element: great music.

From Waters’ “(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man” to James’ “At Last,” the soundtrack is fantastic, even though these are not the original recordings.

Thankfully, the acting’s good too.

Beyoncé is impressive, and Wright is cool as always.

I mean, Beyoncé was good in Dreamgirls, but she’s better here. Whenever she sings, director Darnell Martin just stays with her and lets the song (and her singing) speak for itself.

The actors don’t always disappear into their roles (Mos Def as Chuck Berry is one example), and I could have done without the narration, but just when you start to think the movie’s too conventional, another great song will pipe into the speakers and it’ll get right back on track.

Cadillac Records won’t win any awards, but if you’re a fan of the Chicago blues scene, as I am, then you may just enjoy this one. It’s a pleasant surprise that I liked more than I expected to.

I’m giving Cadillac Records a B.

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