Review: 'Cadillac Records'

Set in 1950s Chicago, the story follows Chess record label's influential role in launching the careers of some musical greats.

Eric Liebowitz/Sony Pictures
Beyoncé Knowles as "Etta James" in Cadillac Records

The Chicago-based Chess record label launched some of the great names in blues and rock 'n' roll, and they come to full-throated life in "Cadillac Records." Cofounded in 1956 by Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody), it listed among its luminaries Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Howlin' Wolf (Eamonn Walker), Little Walter (Columbus Short), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), and Etta James (Beyoncé Knowles). Most of these actors do their own singing, and they're almost good enough to pass muster with the originals. Writer-director Darnell Martin has a free-swinging style that captures the heat of the recording sessions. She lets the music, and not the camera, do the showing off. The film suffers at times from biopic-itis – the narrative unfolds with the requisite heartbreak carefully apportioned – but it's always eye-catching. Wright's full-scale performance is another feather in his well-plumed cap. Grade: B+ (Rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality.)

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