Official Site: Cadillac Records
Judd: Once a year ‘round Oscar time Hollywood releases a movie about a musical act that suffers through incredible odds to rise to the top. It’s as customary as the holiday movie about a dysfunctional family. This year instead of a musical act we’re treated to the story of the little record label that could, Chess Records, in a movie called Cadillac Records.
Swanner: Adrian Brody plays Leonard Chess, a white man (obviously) who sees that the black community of Chicago has a huge talent pool (in the early 50’s) and no one to represent them. He becomes a power producer/talent scout for the early days of rock & roll and R &B music. Chess Records was the home of Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and Etta James.
Judd: I liked Cadillac Records, but I wanted to like it more. I love the music from that period, and I knew about Chess Records before the movie. My two main problems with the film are that it plays lose and fast with the actual facts, and Beyonce as Etta James makes the movie drag. Etta James was a huge money maker for Chess, but her role in the movie was null. Etta’s character was written with nothing but heavy “Oscar Scenes” that had no effect on the plot. Oh yeah, and don’t forget Beyonce gets to sing three full length Etta numbers as the camera slowly revolves around her.
Swanner: I did notice it was a Beyonce produced film. Those scenes were all about Beyonce and she comes in the last third of the movie. That’s where the movie changes from this interesting story of racial discrimination in the music business to “doesn’t Beyonce deserve an Oscar?” The actual story centers around Leonard Chess and Muddy Waters (played brilliantly by the brilliant Jeffrey Wright) and their struggle to change the music business. Mos Def does a nice job playing Chuck Berry but it’s Columbus Short who plays the crap out of Little Walter, the out of control harmonica player.
Judd: I’m glad we agree that Beyonce’s ego nearly ruined the film – and no, her performance was not Oscar caliber. If anything she was the weakest link. Even Cedric the Entertainer who played song writer Willie Dixon and served as the film’s narrator gave a better performance. Columbus Short is the real talent in this film. Unfortunately, he’s lost to Beyonce’s grandstanding. Though who knows, wouldn’t it be fantastic if after all this blatant self promotion, Short is the one that comes away with an Oscar?
Swanner: Sorry, I didn’t mean to say her performance was Oscar worthy…it’s not. You know that was the plan though. I did enjoy the music and the performances but the movie felt like a TV movie. Maybe films like Dreamgirls and Hairspray have set the bar too high for this genre of film. I also think it wasn’t the right time of year to release this film but then again…there is that whole Oscar issue.
Judd: I think the movie would have done better if it were made roman a clef style like Dreamgirls. There were too many people and stories to tell to make an effective movie about Chess Records. If they would have made a movie about Checker Studios with Larry Checker, Mucky Creek, Lil’ Ray, and Josetta Jones then they could have fudged the story—more than they already did, that is—and made a better movie. At least then Josetta could have had more than one overdose scene, because the real Miss James LOVED her heroin. Beyonce’s Etta James seemed to only like it, and still looked beautiful even when she was incoherent and high off her ass.
Swanner: If people folks are looking for an interesting bit of musical history…this is interesting. I’d never heard the history even thought I have heard of the artists. Everyone knows the Motown story so this was an interesting story. That being said, I think the big problems were the script (which seemed disjointed) and the Beyonce portion of the film. I also thought there could have been more nudity. Male nudity…but that’s probably just me.
Judd: If it were up to Tom, every movie would have more swinging meat than a butcher shop. I will say the movie tells the story of Chess Records you expect to see, even though the reality was much, much different.
Swanner: 2 Stars
Judd: 2½ Stars