Cadillac Records (2008)

Cadillac Records (2008)

Tagline: Follow the beat to the source.

“Cadillac Records” chronicles the rise of Chess Records and its recording artists. 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.

The story of how the blues became popular and gave birth to rock and roll begins at a dingy bar on the rough South Side of Chicago in 1947, where an ambitious young Polish émigré, bar owner Leonard Chess (Academy Award-winner Adrien Brody), hires a talented but undisciplined blues combo that includes quiet and thoughtful guitar prodigy Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright) and impulsive and colorful harmonica player Little Walter (Columbus Short). Fascinated by the sound of the music – and eager to cash in on the record burgeoning record business – Chess arranges a recording session for Waters. Waters’ early recordings start moving up the R+B charts and receiving heavy play.

Chess treats his musicians like family – he buys them a Cadillac when they record their first hit record – although the line between business and personal sometimes causes conflict with his increasingly talented and successful stable of artists. After backing up Muddy on his early recordings, Little Walter becomes a star in his own right, but his quick temper and loud manner often run him afoul of friends and the law.

He also finds that the only woman he can talk to is Muddy’s girl, Geneva (Gabrielle Union), who struggles to remain loyal despite Muddy’s poorly concealed affairs. Big Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer), a songwriter and bandleader, also is a key member of the Chess Records family, as is Howlin’ Wolf (Eamonn Walker), an intense and proud blues singer who develops a musical rivalry with Muddy.

But it’s not until 1955 when a Chess artist finally “crosses over” into the realm of mainstream (“white”) America – a skinny guy from St. Louis named Chuck Berry (Mos Def), whose dynamic “duck walk” and catchy, country-tinged tunes mark the birth of rock-and-roll. When Berry is arrested and jailed at the height of his career, Chess finds another talented performer to cross over – singer Etta James (Beyoncé Knowles), an emotionally scarred young woman whose vulnerability tempts Chess’ loyalty and concern in unexpected ways.

As rock-and-roll grows more popular, the Chess artists find themselves revered by a new generation of musicians, but they have also each earned and lost a small fortune on booze, women and the high life, and their addictions begin to take their toll. Even as tragedy befalls, their music and their spirit remain strong: as the sixties wind down and Leonard Chess gets out of the record business, the blues live on.

Cadillac Records is a 2008 biographical musical drama film written and directed by Darnell Martin. The film explores the musical era from the early 1940s to the late 1960s, chronicling the life of the influential Chicago-based record-company executive Leonard Chess, and a few of the musicians who recorded for Chess Records.

The film stars Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, Cedric the Entertainer as Willie Dixon, Mos Def as Chuck Berry, Columbus Short as Little Walter, Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Eamonn Walker as Howlin’ Wolf, and Beyoncé as Etta James. The film was released in North America on December 5, 2008 by TriStar Pictures.

Cadillac Records Movie Poster (2008)

Cadillac Records (2008)

Directed by: Darnell Martin
Starring: Adrien Brody, Beyonce Knowles, Jeffrey Wright, Columbus Short, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Cedric the Entertainer, Tammy Blanchard, Gabrielle Union, Mos Def, Veronika Dash, Eshaya Draper
Screenplay by: Darnell Martin
Production Design by: Linda Burton
Cinematography by: Anastas N. Michos
Film Editing by: Peter C. Frank
Costume Design by: Johnetta Boone
Set Decoration by: Deborah Greene, David Schlesinger, Carrie Stewart
Art Direction by: Nicolas Locke
Music by: Terence Blanchard
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language and some sexuality.
Distributed by: TriStar Pictures
Release Date: December 5, 2008