Sunday, December 28, 2008

“Now I Want a Cadillac” Review of Cadillac Records

If you are a lover of blues music, the new film Cadillac Records reminds you why you fell in love with the blues and if you don’t know much about the blues, you will learn to love it.

Cadillac Records is about the story of Leonard Chess co-founding Chess Records, and helping to introduce many blues artist to mainstream America, who set the foundations for the start of Rock ‘N’ Roll. The film stars Adrien Brody (one of my favorite actors) as Leonard Chess, Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Columbus Short as Little Walter, Eamonn Walker as Howlin’ Wolf, Cedric the Entertainer as Willie Dixon, Beyonce Knowles as Etta James and Mos Def (one of my favorite rappers) as Chuck Berry.

As other musical biopics, like Ray and Walk the Line, all of the actors do their own singing and do it extremely convincingly. Although they do not sound exactly like the real artists, all of the actors give a new flavor to old classics and classic musicians.

However, unlike those biopics, this biopic does not focus on one musician while the others are on the sideline. Almost every character is given a story and the characters are fleshed out. They are portrayed as real people with real personalities, not just as their famous personas. The main character is more the record label, Chess Records, as a whole.

Yes, there are a few inaccuracies and important details missing in the film. For instance, Phil Chess, who co-founded the label with Leonard, is nowhere to be found and Willie Dixon’s part as a major songwriter for many of the artists is not concentrated on as much. It also doesn’t mention other important artists, like Bo Diddley. Moreover, there was no love affair between Etta James and Leonard Chess.

But that’s Hollywood; they takes create a story that is “based on a true story” and then embellish or cut a little so people will come and see it. People want romance and more drama in their films. Look on the bright side; it forces the audience to look up the true stories for themselves.

Putting that to the side, in the end, this film in itself is mesmerizing and all about the music and the emotional connection that you feel when you listen to it, which, I believe, was part of the reason for the embellishment of the James and Chess affair. It definitely has an influence from the Rolling Stones, who are portrayed in the film (named their band after the Muddy Waters’ song) to everyday people like you and me.

Beyonce, in her best acting role to date, gave a powerful performance as Etta James. At first, I was skeptical of her playing James, as I know others were too, but she was able to prove me wrong. Her renditions of James’ songs, “All I Could Do Was Cry,” “At Last” and especially “I’d Rather Go Blind,” which was at the end of the film and marked the end of Chess Records and an era, created a flow of tears.

Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters showed off his charisma and grittiness in the songs, like “I’m a Man” and although his womanizing flaw is apparent, there is a subtle sensitivity shown in Waters (Also need to mention, Gabrielle Union’s Geneva Wade is a strong woman who accepts her husband’s flaws because of love and to keep her family together. She shows that is it not always so easy to leave.).

Columbus Short’s portrayal of Little Walter is also one of his best roles. Little Walter is a complex character who can be arrogant, hot-tempered and a murderer in one scene and then sweet, caring and vulnerable in another.

Eamonn Walker’s Howlin’ Wolf is scary (makes you feel like Little Red Riding Hood) yet down to earth and practical. Mos Def as Chuck Berry provides the perfect comedic and charismatic performance in the film. Last but not least, Brody’s Chess holds the entire ensemble cast together as the mighty ringleader and father figure with his heart in the right place most of the time. All the strong performances made this film great.

This film was able to show the major impact all of these musicians have had and still have on music in the 20th and 21st century and how they paved the way in creating new styles of music to making it mainstream. It makes me wish I lived during that time, just to experience it. I still want that Cadillac.

Cadillac Records: 4 out of 5
Rated R (Cursing, Sex Scenes, etc., Not for young audiences, believe me!!!)

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