DIRECTED BY DARNELL MARTIN
STARRING: ADRIEN BRODY, JEFFREY WRIGHT, COLUMBUS SHORT, MOS DEF, EAMONN WALKER AND BEYONCE KNOWLES
The title credits rolled at the beginning of the film and I didn’t know half the names that passed by, with surges of familiarity (and some of reproach) striking at solely a few names, with the John Mayer fanatic in me crying out loud at the sight of one ‘Steve Jordan’ as music producer. I knew at that point of time that I would be watching ‘Cadillac Records’ only for its music, a deft representation of yesteryear bluesmen and the story of a diversification or dissolution of what could be called the mother of all music forms: The Blues. And although the film doesn’t say it, for me it was like knowing for once that before B.B.King, before Chuck Berry, there were ‘the Headhunters’.
The music is amazing considering it’s a reconstruction of sorts, with the bluesy slide-guitar given new breath; the sound overwhelms and Jeffrey Wright is only too much in comfort as Muddy Waters, the plantation worker who never saw life in the corn he reaped. Leonard Chess is not shown to be a visionary but rather as his developed self in a sufficient status, with the menial in him restricted to a two-minute sequence at most and Adrien Brody fits too well too. That’s perhaps where this film works most – not because the characters involved are legendary, but because they’re more believable than they’re legendary and that’s some good casting for you! But surprisingly, the one that worked most for me is not the suave and sensitive Little Walter or the one in stone, Muddy Waters, or even the ever-smoking Len Chess, but rather the entertainer Chuck Berry played to perfection by Mos Def, his duck-walk scintillating. It’s of course, a contest between him and the crying wife, but then again I dismiss her as a cliché. It’s the blues, after all.
It isn’t insensitive on my part to say that this film didn’t work for me as well I wished it would, and I attribute even that to the music, which is so extraordinary that the film can never put up an equal show. There were hiccups, though, with pop-excrement contributed by Knowles who proves she’s no musical than she shows to be, the role of Etta James although physically believable, proving to be too hot in the vocal front. Her voice quivers and so does she, getting away only because of the tears in her eyes. And this is indispensable, mind you, because Etta is probably the most crucial element of the film: The sole woman who crossed the line and I couldn’t entirely say that Knowles did injustice to her either, but rather safely that no one other than Etta herself can possibly have pulled this off. And by that I do not imply that Knowles comes second-best, I just meant that this is a role that simply cannot be essayed, which is precisely the paradox that kind of pains. While on the one hand there were near-perfect matches in form of Mos Def and Jeffrey Wright, there was Beyonce Knowles on the other, weighing further down than both of them combined.
I particularly loved the sentiments though despite the fact that there wasn’t much of treatise where they were concerned, possibly just a couple of noteworthy scenes, one with Chuck and one with Etta, and I loved the Elvis comment, the blues-lover me, not to mention the related allegations. But what finally mattered was that this is a film that could hook me in with its music so much that I didn’t really need the issues to draw me in further, there’s enough depth explored already. Comments on originality would be unwarranted for I know nothing but the music, but I could still (again) safely say that this was a film that documented the music well and presented it to a willing audience, although nowhere near cinematic brilliance. I didn’t watch an ‘Amadeus’ or even an ‘I am not there’: Just some ‘August Rush’ with some real kings and an ill-represented queen.