Out of the melting pot of 1950s Chicago, a city being defined by the fight for racial equality, young free-thinker Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody) saw the opportunity to make his fortune. Recognising that the Blues music filtering up from the Deep South deserved far more than the ‘Race Records’ tag given to it by those few DJs who would play the songs, Chess signed up Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright) – a young man only just coming to understand his talent – and started Chess Records. As the company grew, Chess went on to sign some serious musical legends, including Little Walter (Columbus Short), Howlin’ Wolf (Eamonn Walker), Etta James (Beyonce Knowles) and Chuck Berry (Mos Def). And, by promoting these artists on the strength of their talents, rather than the colour of their skin, Chess helped break down racial barriers and saw his singers achieve mainstream success by topping the American charts.
Of course, as with any true story given the big screen treatment, TV writer/director Darnell Martin takes some dramatic licence with the tale of Chess Records. But it’s an enthralling story nonetheless, and the outstanding ensemble cast – together with a primal, heart-thumping blues soundtrack – make it a blast from start to finish.
Sure, there’s plenty of drama and heartache along the way, as the price of fame and fortune proves too much for some of Chess’s stars, but the focus of Cadillac Records is firmly on the world-changing power of the music. And, as Beyonce’s spirited Etta James belts out I’d Rather Go Blind, or Walker’s intimidating Howling Wolf growls out his famous Smokestack Lightnin’, it’s clear why they have proved such an inspiration for so many generations of artists and why their impact on everything from rock ‘n’ roll to hip hop should never be underestimated. 4 stars
The usual suspects: a handful of deleted scenes, plus a couple of making of featurettes. The commentary with Darnell Martin is well worth a listen, as she’s clearly a huge fan of the music as well as being an accomplished film-maker and brings enthusiasm and passion to her discussion. The Blu-ray also contains a feature that enables you to create an interactive song playlist. 2 stars
Stars Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright, Beyonce Knowles
Director Darnell Martin
Distributor Sony PIctures Home Entertainment
Format DVD & Blu-ray
Released July 20