“Cadillac Records” is a very entertaining movie with an extremely talented ensemble cast anchored by the incomparable Jeffrey Wright. The movie tells the story of Chess Records, a company founded by a Polish immigrant in the mid-twentieth century that specialized in “race records.” Blues, soul and rock n’ roll icons like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James and Chuck Berry all made their biggest hits on the label.
Like most big screen stories dealing with musical artists, there’s a pretty good amount of screen time dedicated to drugs, extra-marital affairs, money problems and physical confrontations in this movie. There’s a nice heap of racism (perceived and real) too, which is pretty much expected given the time period and the industry.
Wright shines very brightly in “Cadillac Records” as Muddy Waters. In my opinion, Wright is the best living actor hands down. He has truly perfected his craft. Wright has been brilliant in every movie he’s been in from “Basquiat” to “Boycott” to “Angels in America.” He’s a beast. Other folks in the cast did a great job too. Eammon Walker did a frighteningly good Howlin’ Wolf, Beyonce put in her best acting to date as Etta James and Columbus Short did an excellent job as Little Walter. I’m not a fan of Columbus Short and that’s probably mostly because most of the movies I’ve seen him in have been mediocre at best. Think “This Christmas” and “Stomp the Yard.” Short really turned it out in this role though. Mos Def, who has proven his acting ability in “Something the Lord Made” and other films, is hilarious as Chuck Berry. Adrien Brody played Leonard Chess, founder of the record company, and as usual, he’s superb. He’s a great actor, not as great as Wright, but great nonetheless. The casting director should get a million dollar bonus for putting these folks together.
Cedric the Entertainer and Gabrielle Union are also in the film. My only issue with Union is that her character doesn’t seem to age at all and the movie spans almost two decades of her life. That’s a minor gripe though. The movie is filled with subtle humor, nuanced performances and an engaging string of stories, so relatively small things like an ageless character don’t count for much. The directors and writers took some creative license when telling the stories of the artists and businessmen, but in a good way I think, and the narrative has a really nice arc. Fans of “The Wire” and “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” will spot a few cameos. I even liked the ending. There’s a nice little cameo at the end by a certain rapper who released one of the best albums of 2008…in my opinion anyway.
“Cadillac Records” was well worth the ticket price and I would recommend going to see it in the theater. It’s something I would buy on DVD. Support good movies!