Release Date: Dec. 5
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.