A moderately enjoyable period piece largely overlooked by audiences when it was released late last year, "Cadillac Records" follows the rise of Chicago's legendary Chess records, a label started by Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody). Chess works his way up from the junk business with an ambitious plan to open up a nightclub in Chicago's South side area. While the plans are met with some initial skepticism, it's not long before he meets guitar player Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright).
While the club manages to open, it's not long before Chess has moved onto the next idea, destroying the club in order to get enough insurance money to build a recording studio. Pulling Waters in with him, he starts a label and - soon enough - attracts further talent, including Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer), Little Walter (Columbus Short), Howlin' Wolf (Eamonn Walker), and Chuck Berry (Mos Def). While the label finds success, when Chuck Berry is jailed, Chess has to find another superstar and manages to do so in the form of Etta James (Beyonce Knowles).
The most successful element of the film would be the performances, as Mos Def, Jeffrey Wright and Beyonce Knowles offer compelling - and occasionally powerful - performances. Adrien Brody and Gabrielle Union (even Cedric the Entertainer, who also handles narration) offer solid supporting efforts, as well. The film also manages to get the period look fairly spot-on, too, considering the production was working with a very small budget. Knowles and some of the other cast members also give it a go singing the songs, and while they aren't the originals, they are enjoyable. I'm surprised that there aren't Blu-Ray/CD soundtrack bundles being sold.
Where the film falls short is the way it covers the history, as it chooses to provide a general overview rather than going too deeply into some of the subplots (such as the feelings that James and Chess shared) and omits other details (Leonard's brother, Phil, was an instrumental part of the record label, but is left out of the movie) Additionally, given the amount of major characters profiled, this story seems more fit for a mini-series at times (as not only does it have to follow the stories of several characters, but also have to fit in several song performances) than a 109-minute movie.
Overall, "Cadillac Records" is a flawed, but satisfying (largely thanks to very good performances) take on the history of the classic record label and some of the legendary artists who launched successful careers while on the label.
VIDEO: "Cadillac Records" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The DVD presentation is just fine, although as one might expect, it comes in short when compared to the Blu-Ray edition. Sharpness and detail are good, although the picture comes across looking a bit softer than the Blu-Ray (which, while not crystal clear, either, does appear crisper and more well-defined.)
As for the negatives, they include a couple of sightings of slight edge enhancement and a few minor instances of noise. The print looked pristine, as one would rightly expect from a recent theatrical release. Colors generally appeared natural and didn't show any concerns. Flesh tones looked spot-on, as well. This transfer falls a bit short of greatness, but it's still a fine effort from the studio.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. This is a pretty straightforward sound mix, as audio quality is fairly standard and surround activity is limited to some mild reinforcement of the music. The DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation doesn't have quite the warm and clarity of the Blu-Ray's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 presentation, but the differences are pretty minor.
EXTRAS: Aside from a commentary from director Darnell Martin, we get a series of deleted scenes, "Playing Chess" making-of documentary and "Cadillac Records by Design" featurette.
Final Thoughts: Overall, "Cadillac Records" is a flawed, but satisfying (largely thanks to very good performances) take on the history of the classic record label and some of the legendary artists who launched successful careers while on the label. A recommended rental.
The Film B-