Cadillac Records

This consistently well-acted film illustrates the beginnings of Chess Records and follows the arc of many well-known black musicians in 1960s Chicago. In my opinion, to get such high caliber performances from every actor, we should look to the director, in this case, the lovely Darnell Martin, who has been focused on television work for many years. Her actors had the daunting task of depicting legendary entertainers, always a delicate balancing act.

Here are some of the actors she inspired:

  • Jeffrey Wright ("W." and "Quantum of Solace") as Muddy Waters, the first talent who made it big for Chess Records in Chicago. As a reward, he was given a new Cadillac.
  • Adrian Brody ("King Kong" and "The Pianist") as Leonard Chess, who founded Chess Records and promoted black performers into crossover success. One of his first gifts when an artist achieved success was a new Cadillac. Personal gripe: Adrian's nose is always aimed toward the southeast when he is facing south.
  • Cedric the Entertainer ("Talk to Me" and "Barbershop") as Willie Dixon, the songwriter who provided the tunes for Muddy Waters.
  • Columbus Short ("War of the Worlds" and "Stomp the Yard") as Little Walter, the volatile singer/harmonica player who contributed so much to Muddy Waters' success, but couldn't handle fame.
  • Beyonce Knowles ("Dreamgirls" and "The Pink Panther") as the legendary Etta James, who is still alive and performing around the world. When she finally launched into "At Last" there was an audible ripple that went through tonight's audience. We LOVE that song.
  • Eric Bogosian ("Wonderland" and "Heights") is Alan Freed, the groundbreaking disc jockey of "Payola" fame. It was considered part of the cost of doing business to bribe the DJs for airplay when promoting records.
  • Mos Def ("Lackawanna Blues" and "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy") is like a breath of fresh air when he makes his entrance as Chuck Berry, late in the film. It covers his conviction and prison term for violating the Mann Act and his dismay when he realizes how many white successes were achieved by plagiarizing his work.

There is a huge cast and no weak performances. It is sad to watch that familiar trajectory for so many artists: the struggle, the success, the fame, the good life, the controlled substances, the decline, and, once again, the struggle.