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Cadillac Records brings us the true story of Leonard Chess’ (Adrian Brody) record label, Chess Records, and his stable of acts that included the now Rock and Roll Hall of fame stars Little Walter (Columbus Short), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), Howlin’ Wolf (Eomonn Walker), Etta James (Beyoncé Knowles) and Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright).

 Cadillac Records
Told in true biopic fashion and focusing mainly on Muddy Waters (though not entirely), Cadillac Records brings us the tales of addiction, prejudice, affairs, racism and of course the beginnings of some of the greatest music ever recorded.

For the first half of this movie, I hit my usual wall with the musical biopic. The wall that tells me that I’ve seen this all before. Those same ol’ steps were being made all over again and frankly this wasn’t being handled half as well as many of the other biopics out there. The dialogue was forced, the voiceovers by Cedric the Entertainer made for lazy storytelling and the usual touchstones, such as the moment they happen upon ‘that new sound’, just felt a little heavy handed even if I did like how a simple amplified harmonica could be something totally new.

 Cadillac Records
Ever since the awesome Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story it’s grown increasingly difficult to swallow many of the obvious turning points in a musical legend's life as genuinely momentous events and Cadillac Records really suffers in places because of this. I defy any avid movie watcher not roll their eyes when Muddy Waters offers the t-total Little Walter his first sip of alcohol. The usual, ‘go on, try it’ suggestion, followed by the reluctant ‘I don’t need that stuff’ and ending up with ‘OK, maybe just the one sip’ immediately informs you that the next time you see this character will have him as a raging alcoholic. And d’ya know what? He was.

While generally Cadillac Records sticks pretty close to the biopic tracks in regards storytelling, I’ll admit that by the second half I’d been lured into these characters' lives and it was a whole lot more enjoyable. Eomonn Walker brought a whole lot more to the proceedings with his presence as Howlin’ Wolf (and by presence I mean scariness), Mos Def provides an awesomely enjoyable take on Chuck Berry, which I would loved to have seen more of, and Beyoncé Knowles as Etta James, while herself uninspiring, made for great drama with the, up until this point, sort of dull Adrian Brody. On the flipside of this I didn't really feel much for the usually great Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters. It could be that as the other characters are introduced, his role reduces, or it could be that the others just had more interesting stuff going on. Either way something about his performance just felt a little one note and unexplored.

 Cadillac Records
At best Cadillac Records does its job. It informs you of the history of Chess Records and its acts, even if it merely skims over the surface for the most part. It hammers home the importance these artists had in the music industry and how their influence formed the future on the worldwide stage and happily it gives these songs the screen time they deserve (even if some of the miming is woeful). If you delve much deeper than that, you’ll see the flaws and corner cutting being taken, you’ll feel the heavy handed approach to the story and of course you’ll have moments of thinking ‘I’ve seen this all before’.

Video


The transfer here is a little bland. Other than a few warmer scenes in the studio or in Muddy’s home, nothing really shows off the high definition quality of the image. Detail levels are quite underwhelming, lighting never shows off the fairly clean image (I say ‘fairly’ as I noticed white specks in a few scenes) and generally nothing really calls attention to itself. I suppose it could be argued that this was the style the movie was going for but in comparison to many others in the Blu-ray catalogue, this does nothing to stand out amongst the crowd and little to show of the formats wow factors even if it’s an obvious step up from standard definition.

 Cadillac Records

Audio


Music is the most important factor to get right on this one and thankfully, the songs sound pretty great in this Dolby TrueHD track. There is a fantastic level of bass to add that extra oomph to Muddy’s classics and both the strings of Muddy’s blues guitar and Little Walter's harmonica are captured brilliantly. The Etta James recordings also show off the track, with a great use of orchestra and Beyonce’s voice rings out with just the right amount of power.

As for the movie itself, most of the dialogue is clear (though some of the slang and accents can sometimes get a little mumbled). Atmospherics for the city are good, with the rears used nicely to create a wider feel to the scenes and generally this is a strong track that uses everything it has at its disposal to create a nostalgic mood to the 40s-50s setting.
 

Extras


Writer/director Darnell Martin’s commentary is a thoughtful one with plenty of knowledge shared of the era and she really fleshes out many of the scenes that weren’t in the movie itself. Spaces between talking grow as the movie wears on but this is as much to do with Martin’s way of speaking as her running out of things to talk about.

 Cadillac Records
There’re about five minutes worth of deleted scenes, none of which add anything of note and are obvious cuts, and the two featurettes, ‘Playing Chess: The Making of Cadillac Records‘ (26:10 HD) and ‘Once Upon A Blues: Cadillac Records By Design’ (15:37 HD) are as generic as they come, with a little insight into the history and plenty of interview segments from the cast and crew.

Besides that, there’s ‘The Chess Record Player’, which allows you to generate a play list whilst watching the movie and email it to yourself or friends afterwards. This offers minor details about the songs but really isn’t as impressive as the similar recent Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist version of the same thing.

Trailers included on the disc are Blu-ray Disc is High Definition, Seven Pounds, Rachel Getting Marriedand Hancock.

 Cadillac Records

Overall


This Blu-ray's transfer is solid without being overly impressive and the audio is probably the most stand out thing of the entire package especially for the musical elements. As for the features, these are pretty typical of the type of movie and offer little outside of the commentary.

Cadillac Records, for good and bad, delivers exactly what you’d expect from a biopic and besides giving a fairly broad history lesson with some great music, it doesn’t really do much to warrant being called a great one.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.


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