Cadillac Records chronicles the rise of Leonard Chess' (Adrien Brody) Chess Records and its recording artists including Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Little Walter (Columbus Short), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), Willie Dixon (Cedric The Entertainer) and the great Etta James (Beyonce Knowles). In this tale of sex, violence, race and rock and roll in Chicago of the 1950s and 60s, the film follows the exciting but turbulent lives of some of America's greatest musical legends.
Even with an Academy Award Best Actor winner (Adrien Brody) and mega star Beyoncé Knowles fronting this movie, it does not mean that it will automatically receive a theatrical release in Singapore. Perhaps the subject matters in Cadillac Records were deem too similar to Dreamgirls (which had just been released not that long ago) or perhaps the distributors worried that the Singapore audience would not be interested in the particular music genre that presented in Cadillac Records. Either ways, it’s a pity as Cadillac Records was pretty darn good.
First and foremost, in less than 2 hours, this movie is able to introduce the splendor of the blues to newbies like me. From the catchy tempo, arousing performance to the sorrowful lyrics, Cadillac Records gave the Blues an enticing exposure very much like what 881 had done for Hokkien songs and what Walk the Line had done for country music. It all boils down to the choice of songs and the manner they were inserted into the movie which needless to say, Cadillac Records did it with style.
Cadillac Records also told the story of Chess Records in a breezy manner and managed to control the right amount of focus on a handful of characters that are essential to Chess Records. It’s not an easy task as Chess Records had many artistes in it’s stable and it’s practically impossible to feature every performer in the 2 hours time frame. Personally, this movie chose just the right artistes to feature and it attracts clueless newcomers into finding out more about the rich history of Chess Records and the various difficulties they faced.
It also uses the characters to spotlight on several obstacles that the Chess Records’ owners and musicians faced in their formative and declining years. The various obstacles such as racial discrimination, loyalty, corruption of fame and wealth are all thrown in the right amount to give viewers a good idea on the struggle in making in the music business.
The cast of Cadillac Records were pretty good in endearing themselves to the audience, giving that extra reason for wanting to find out what happened to the characters that they portrayal. Adrien Brody and Jeffrey Wright were equally impressive in their roles as Leonard Chess and Muddy Waters respectively. Adrien Brody channeled a vulnerable personality beneath his tough and smart exterior, giving his character the duality of an extraordinary manager who is plague with his own set of personal problems. Jeffrey Wright emits such a cool persona that differs from his other roles in Syriana and recent James Bond movies and personally that was a testament of his acting range.
However, the most surprising turn out in performance would have to be Beyoncé Knowles’ performance as Etta James. Her performance was more heartfelt and to a degree, it was more challenging compared to her previous persona in Dreamgirls. It’s just a pity that Cadillac Records did not receive the same type of buzz as Dreamgirls did.
In closing, Cadillac Records might not be historic true to it’s material but the way it romanticize the various real personalities and events were effective in capturing the imagination and emotion of someone who is new to the Blues music. If there anything that this movie suffered the most would be that it was release generally too close to Dreamgirls and somehow the media and masses weren’t ready to give this movie the chance that it deserved.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
Commentary with Writer/Director Darnell Martin
The director and writer of Cadillac Records share more about the film making process and information of the characters and event that weren’t not explain or presented. At times, Darnell Martin sound like a fangirl raving about the actors and the Blues legends that she is bringing to life in this film but she does come across as someone who is genuinely interested and love the material at hand. There is also trivial information such as the cameo of her son and it made her commentary pleasant to listen to.
This segment features a Play All function that allows user to play all the deleted scenes at one go (instead of selecting each clip, one at a time). This segment features an introduction of Leonard Chess’s brother Phil (who’s absent in this film had caused purist much displeasure) and alternate sequences of a scene.
Playing Chess: The Making of Cadillac Records
This featurette consists of the director, the producer and cast speaking of the foundation of the blues music and the various real life legends that were depicted in Cadillac Records. It gives more insights on what went on in the movie and those involved shared their love for the story and characters that were very heartfelt.
Once upon a Blues: Cadillac Records by Design
As the title suggests, it’s a featurette that look at the effort in designing the look of the yesteryears. It covers designing the production sets, costumes, the color schemes and even the choice of songs.
This featurette highlight the importance of items seen on screen to invoke the feel of the old days and it went down to the tiny details such as button. These designers even shared tricks on how to save cost while creating a period piece. An interesting extra segment that opens one eye on film making and it makes one more appreciative to production designers.
This DVD has a fine depiction of the visual and sounds of the Blues back in the heydays. Whether it’s the color schemes that the production designers had made the effort to place in this film or the rockin’s blues music that are being presented in this movie, the DVD will help transport one to a different era and different music movement.
by Richard Lim Jr
Posted on 16 June 2009