Cadillac Records

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Cadillac Records

Release Date: Dec. 5

Director/Writer: Darnell Martin
Starring: Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright, Columbus Short, Beyonce Knowles
Cinematographer: Anasta Michos
Studio/Run Time: Sony Music Film, 109 mins.
Enjoyable blues biopic drowns characters in minor-chord decadence

The narrative finds all of the above in Chess Records, the Chicago-based label that housed such luminaries as Muddy Waters, Little Walter Jacobs, Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf and Etta James. The title of the film comes from the label’s paradigm success, as Waters (Jeffrey Wright) quips “Welcome to Cadillac Records; stay here long enough and everyone gets one.”

Adrien Brody plays Leonard Chess, the entrepreneur who pushed “colored” music into mainstream success through his paternal regard for his musicians and innovative business savvy. Brody and the ensemble of actors who revisit the pioneers of blues attack their roles with relish.Whether it’s Wright riffing on Waters’ overactive sex drive or Columbus Short pounding out Little Walter’s violent episodes, each player fleshes out their vice as much as their musical chops, with Chess forced to play the mother hen in their self-destructive wake. Eamonn Walker is especially enticing as Howlin’ Wolf, a guttural force of nature who dominates his label-mates, and Mos Def’s Chuck Berry is just as charming as the real-life legend he portrays.

The Behind The Music moments only become regrettable when you realize that writer/director Darnell Martin had the potential to transcend thrills indigenous to hair-metal documentaries. Etta James, played with vulnerable finesse by Beyonce Knowles, garners far more depth with her depiction as the strung out daughter of a prostitute, and the elusive nods to blues’ historical ascension as a national standard are few and far between. While the performances in Cadillac Records are guilty-good fun, the film misses the beat on what could have been a lasting reflection on an all-important art form.

“The first time a girl threw her underwear on the stage was on account of the blues,”Cedric the Entertainer, channeling the southern-fried charisma of bassist Willie Dixon, coos in the beginning of Cadillac Records. More than just the opening lines of the film, these words also stand as a blanket thesis for its execution: revisiting the sacred history of the blues while reveling in its drugs, sex and violence.

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