Writer-director Darnell Martin has created a biopic, but not of a single figure in music history, as with RAY or WALK THE LINE, but of a record company - Chess Records. Founded by a pair of Polish immigrants (one of whom is excised from this story) who sold records from the back of a cadillac, the label was home to the best and most influential blues and early rock acts: Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Etta James, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry and Little Walter. With such a cast of icons, it's great that Martin manages to quickly essay their back stories, their characters, and to convince us of their musical talent. In this, she is helped by a tremendous score from Terence Blanchard. The movie also tackles head on the race issue: black musicians having their musical heritage appropriated by white people who could play to a larger audience and hence make more money. The acting is fine throughout, but Jeffrey Wright stands out as Muddy Waters and Beyonce Knowles is surprisingly good as Etta James - indeed the only truly dramatic scene is where James is high on heroin and having an emotional crisis with her record producer boss (Adrien Brody). And therein lies the problem, this movie never quite catches fire. Like the worst kind of reverential history, it's just one damn thing after another. Still, blues fans will luxuriate in the period music and the great musical set-pieces.
CADILLAC RECORDS was released in the USA in December 2008 and in the UK, Spain, Germany, Australia, Sweden, Italy earlier this year. It will be released in Japan on August 15th and is available on DVD.