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Cadillac Records
Cadillac Records
Actors: Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright, Beyonce Knowles, Columbus Short, Mos Def
Director: Darnell Martin
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
R     2009     1hr 49min

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 (Ce...  more »

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Movie Details

Actors: Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright, Beyonce Knowles, Columbus Short, Mos Def
Director: Darnell Martin
Creators: Beyonce Knowles, Anastas N. Michos, Darnell Martin, Andrew Lack, Marc Levin, Petra Hoebel, Sofia Sondervan
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Love & Romance
Studio: Sony Pictures
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Dubbed,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 03/10/2009
Original Release Date: 01/01/2008
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2008
Release Year: 2009
Run Time: 1hr 49min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 3
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: English, French
Subtitles: French
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Member Movie Reviews

Gloria B. (glowbird) from SPOKANE, WA
Reviewed on 7/25/2018...
I love movies with great soundtracks, and this is one of my favorites. I thought Beyonce played her role well. She may not be the Etta James, but I love her versions of James's songs. I also thought the hinted at love story believable. It may not be historically correct, but it is still one of my favorite movies.
1 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
Jon M. (Johnny) from ASHLAND, MA
Reviewed on 3/8/2017...
Anyone familiar with the story of Chicago Blues and Chess Records (Cadillac Records is a pseudonym for that label) should enjoy this as light entertainment and a fun movie. Much of the movie is "derived" from fact, but the typical Hollywood practice of artistic license is in full force here. Just for the heck of it, google a photo of Leonard Chess, who Adrian Brody here is portraying. Brody looks like a blues alien compared to what Leonard looked like. And Beyoncé's Etta James is, well, you'll see. It IS worth seeing, just suspend your sense of reality.
2 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
Reviewed on 2/5/2013...
Cadillac Records is an AWESOME movie! This is Beyonce at her acting BEST! If you are a music lover from back in the say, this is a MUST SEE! Mos Def and Columbus Short also portray their characters with great distinction! Adrien Brody and Jeffrey Wright, the movie's lead character KILLS it as well!
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
Jeffery W. from GRAND HAVEN, MI
Reviewed on 5/22/2011...
Such a great movie... that's all I can say.
0 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.

Movie Reviews

5 Stars for the music- 3 stars for the story- Cadillac Recor
K. Cooper | Phila. area | 12/23/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"So it averages out to 4 stars then.
The music is just great with many key blues performances from Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Etta James, Howlin'Wolf and Willie Dixon recreated. The story is a blend of fiction and fact and one wonders why the half truths and lies had to find their way into the story. Just a few of the "mistruths":
-There were 2 Chess Brothers, not just one and both had a strong involvement in the company.
- Len Chess died 2 months after he sold his company not just after stepping foot outside the door.
-Etta James did not record "I'd Rather Go Blind" in Chicago although she did record her composition for the Chess label.
-Etta had already been a star for 5 years prior to joining Chess.
-Len Chess did actually serve as a session musician if the situation demanded it.
-The Chess company recorded many other musicians and styles during their career.
-Whether Chess ever dated Etta James is debatable. She had a boyfriend who was writing some of her best material at the time.
- Chess operated in a few smaller buildings before moving to 2120 South Michigam Ave in 1955.
A thorough account on what is true and what is not would no doubt reveal countless other mistruths. The question is why does Hollywood have to falsify and dress up the facts when a simple report on the facts would have been so much better. Still, the music in this movie is a blues fan's dream and credit must be given for that."
Cadillac Records
Robin Friedman | Washington, D.C. United States | 12/08/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"An outstanding new book, Ted Gioia's "Delta Blues" (2008) tells the story of "The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters who Revolutionized American Music." Much of Gioia's book is devoted to the blues singers who left the Delta in the late 1940s and relocated to other American cities, including Chicago. With Gioia's book fresh in my mind, I was eager to see "Cadillac Records", a new movie which tells of transplanted blues, early rock and roll, and Chicago -- and of the association of many great blues artists with Chess Records and Leonard Chess. The movie offers compelling portraits of Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf, of the Mississippi Delta, together with Little Walter, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, guitarist Hubert Sumlin, and Etta James together with its portrait of Leonard Chess. The movie is directed by Darnell Martin.

Gioia writes: "Like Muddy Waters, the Chess brothers were outsiders trying to establish themselves in Chicago." ("Delta Blues, p. 216). Leonard and Philip Chess (born Lijzor and Fiszel Czyz) arrived in the United States in 1928. Leonard progressed from working in his father's junk shop, to opening a liquor store and nightclub, the Macomba Lounge on Chicago's South Side, to establishing the Chess record label to record black artists in the areas of blues, gospel, doo-wop, and rock. Philip Chess does not appear in the movie. But Leonard receives a tough and accurate portrait from Adrien Brody in "Cadillac Records" as a new American determined to make a success of himself.

Muddy Waters was born McKinley Morganfield as a sharecropper in the Mississippi Delta. In 1943, Alan Lomax visited Waters, as he was already known, and made a celebrated series of blues recordings with Waters singing and playing acoustic bottleneck guitar. The movie opens with an excellent scene between Lomax and Waters in Mississippi (filmed in Louisiana). Shortly thereafter, Waters moved to Chicago and changed Delta Blues and music when he electrified his instrument. Waters would make several efforts to adapt during the course of a long career. Much of "Cadillac Records" is told in his voice and through his eyes, portrayed by Jeffery Wright.

Howling Wolf, born Chester Burnet, also was a musician from the Mississippi Delta. A physically large and formidable man who resembled a linebacker more than a musician, Wolf was already middle-aged when he came to Chicago. He was old enough to have known early Delta blues singers Charlie Patton and Son House. Wolf, portrayed by Eamonn Walker in "Cadillac Records", arrived in Chicago from Memphis, with a surly sharp temper and more of a head for business than some other rural singers. Wolf and Waters, and the sometimes jealous relationship that developed between them, is well portrayed in this movie.

The movie also offers excellent portrayals of Little Walter, (played by Columbus Short) with his drinking and fighting and unmatchable artistry on the harmonica. His own tendencies to attract and to give violence are graphically portrayed. Chuck Barry (Mos Def) is portrayed as the founder of rock and roll, a style that would for a time displace Chess's bluesmen. We see him "crossing over" to white audiences in this movie, in the face of a heavily segregated Chicago, and serving jail time for contributing to the delinquency of minors at the height of his career. The movie shows other white rock groups plagiarizing from Berry. Songwriter and bassist Willie Dixon (Cedrick the Entertainer), like Wolf a large man, wrote and helped produce much of Wolf's and Water's material. The vulnerable, troubled, foul-mouthed and greatly talented Etta James was added to Chess's artists when the label thought it needed a woman performer. James is portrayed by Beyonce. She makes a stunning presence in this movie with her passionate performance of James's classic "At Last". (The violinists in the studio raise their heads from their instruments in disbelief as James/Beyonce wails in recording "At Last", creating an unforgettable image of what needs to be said about this song.)

The movie suggests that James and Leonard Chess became romantically involved. This is likely incorrect. Many of the details of the story are also probably historically inaccurate. But the film is a story rather than a documentary and should be judged for its own effectiveness and for the way it portrays its characters and its times. And here I thought it succeeded admirably. The movie captures the blues as it moved from the Delta to Chicago. These musicians have only recently received some of the recognition that their artistry deserves. Leonard Chess, with his mixture of paternalism, insight, ambition, and probable exploitation of his talented musicians, is aptly portrayed. The difficult transition from their rural roots that Waters, Little Walter, and the other musicians experienced in Chicago, and their struggles with alcohol, violence, promiscuity and racism, are properly emphasized in the movie. And the soundtrack brings "Cadillac Records" to life. The songs are not performed by the original artists, but the performances especially Beyonce's as Etta James, are captivating.

"Cadillac Records" is a gritty portrayal of blues, rock, Leonard Chess, and the record company he founded. The movie tells of a unique American art form, developed by outsiders and immigrants, which continues to make large contributions to American culture.

Running time: 107 minutes

Robin Friedman
Sex, Guns, Rythmn & Blues, and Payola
Jym Cherry | Wheaton, IL United States | 03/16/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Cadillac Records is the story of Chess Records opened by Leonard Chess in Chicago in the late 40's, and which quickly became a successful and influential record label (would Rock `n' Roll have existed without Chess?)

The movie is narrated by Willie Dixon (Cedric The Entertainer) and he tells of Chess' (Adrian Brody) beginnings with a bar and a club on the south side of Chicago. The main players in the movies are Muddy Waters (Jeffery Wright) and Little Walter (a standout performance by Columbus Short) who are respectively the best guitar and harp players in Chicago. Chess discovers them when they crash his club and show up the band that is playing. Through the fortuitous burning down of his club Chess opens Chess Records and seeks out Waters, records him, and starts touring him in the south. Chess insures radio airplay with a little payola and Waters career takes off and so does Chess Records. When the money comes rolling in Chess pays Waters with new Cadillac's. New artists join Chess Records, Little Walter, the movie features Columbus Short singing My Babe that is such a standout it would be on MTV as a video if MTV still played videos. Willie Dixon comes on board as a writer/producer for Chess, Howlin' Wolf (Eamonn Walker), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), and Beyonce as Etta James.

The movie is shy about the financial liberties Chess took in paying his artists. Earlier in this review I mentioned that Chess bar burned down and their seems to be the inference that Chess could have done it for the insurance money. Chess' habit also of paying his artists in Cadillac's in lieu of cash, unfortunately he never asked his artists if that's how they would like to be paid. He also kept Waters on a short leash parsing out money to him and keeping him coming back to Chess for money. Chess rationalized this convincing himself that he was "taking care" of his artists, this paternal and essentially plantation mentality had to fuel some resentment between Waters, who had come from the cotton fields of the south, and Chess. Howlin' Wolf is one of the few artists at Chess that asked for and received his money. At one point Chess offers Wolf an advance and he refuses because he knows it isn't good to "borrow against the store" a way workers were kept in debt to companies.

I read some of the previous reviews which mentioned some inaccuracies and events out of order. You have to remember movies are only the highlights of a life, in two hours you don't have time to show the events without a little license taken, events get compressed, characters combined into one, fictional scenes added to illustrate unknown or disputed periods in a life. One thing I did notice though is the anachronism in the time line in the movie. The Rolling Stones (some actors who look very little like The Stones, you only guess they're The Stones by their haircuts) come to pay homage to their idols, and Chuck Berry hears The Beach Boys on the radio and a couple of scenes later we see on TV a 1950's era Elvis on the TV.

All the performances of the movie are good, I just found the presentation a little to typical of the genre. I liked how the ending links the music created at Chess Records with music that has come after Rock `n' Roll and Rap, it's a nice segue from the events in the movie to the present.

The bonus features are disappointing, there's some deleted scenes, and two featurettes that I almost missed. The first is the actors talking about their characters and how they fit into the history of Chess Records, and the second is about the production design of the movie."