Saturday, February 7, 2009

Review: Cadillac Records

Cadillac Records
Released: December 5, 2008 (US)
Rating: ♥♥
[official website] [wiki] [imdb]

Cadillac Records explores the music industry in the early 40's to the late 60's and the lives of the people who ruled the charts. In the movie, Leonard Chess (played by Adrien Brody) is the ringleader of a group of talented artists such as Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), Little Walter (Columbus Short), Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), and Etta James (Beyoncé Knowles). The film chronicles the rise and fall of Chess Records, the Cadillac as a status symbol, and the lives of a talented group of music pioneers.

The Good
Beyoncé Knowles cannot act. This movie just cleared up any ambiguity left from Dreamgirls. However, her music is a whole ‘nother story. Beyoncé does a wonderful rendition of At Last, Etta James’ most famous song. At the end of the movie, I had to rewind to that part just to see (and hear) her sing it once again. When she sang All I Could Do Was Cry, her voice conveyed such emotion that I just couldn’t sit still in my chair. What she lacks in acting, she more than makes up for by singing and I suppose with a few more acting classes, she could potentially be a great actress.

Gabrielle Union is a star, a far cry from the woman best known as “the other girl from Bring It On.” She had a very small role in this movie but in my personal opinion, she stole the scene every single time. She plays Geneva Wade, Muddy Waters’ semi-wife and Little Walter’s semi-mother. In one scene, Walter tries to seduce her as he talks about Muddy’s many women. In another scene, she is forced to take care of a baby Muddy fathered with another woman. She is all at once angry, sad, merciful and loving and it’ll break your little heart just to see her go through what she’s going through. If her next projects could only be as emotionally stimulating, I cannot wait to see her next move.

The Bad
I’m not sure if it was just me but it seems like everybody in the movie was aging except for Adrien Brody. I think he is one of today’s greatest actors. I loved him in The Pianist and I sat through the painful Hollywoodland but I doubt if he’s going to gain any recognition for Cadillac Records. The story and the character itself is so flawed, no actor could’ve ever pulled it off.

Despite the fact that the characters in the movie go through a lot of things, I found it hard to sympathize with them. It’s not that the actors weren’t great. I just found the writing so blah and a tad pretentious that I couldn’t really focus on the story at hand. They tried to put in too many things: racism, paternity issues, infidelity, rock and roll, and even police brutality. The Dreamgirls parallelism isn't hard to draw. In some scenes, I felt like I was lost in the storm of three different movies.

The Ugly
It didn’t really help that the story was mostly narrated by Cedric the Entertainer and a really thick Southern accent. It was so thick, I had to stop and think if it was even Southern. It wasn’t just him though. I found myself blanking out in scenes with heavy dialogue because I couldn’t really process all the thick accents. It seemed a little forced and so for the simple fact that they wanted to be accurate to the race and diction of that time, I missed out on some potentially important details of the story.

Eight words: Adrien Brody and Beyoncé on crack making out. Harsh mental image, right? By the end of the scene, I wanted to literally gouge my eyes out. The story was so poorly set-up, I didn’t even realize they were supposed to be in love. In that scene, Beyoncé as Etta James was high as a kite, straddling the line between angry and horny. It wasn’t a pretty sight. I realized that although Beyoncé is undoubtedly a sexy woman, a lot of it has to do with her packaging. Stick her in a bad role and an equally bad wig and all her mojo goes down the drain.

Final Say
I suppose there are people who would enjoy Cadillac Records. I just don’t think I’m one of them. I think the movie dealt with too many real people with equally real fanbases that the writers were afraid to take any liberties. Personally, I thought it tried too hard to show a simple story of rising and falling, of fame and the many things that come along with the package. You walk away from the movie with nothing to show for yourself but the tears that come from yawning and a massive case of LSS ( at laaaaasstttt ). I think if they cut out about thirty minutes of unnecessary footage, condense the characters and place the spotlight on just one Chess Records star, this movie could’ve been saved from your local record bar’s bargain pile.