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Cadillac Records

By Bret McCabe | Posted 12/3/2008

Writer/director Darnell Martin resorts to just about every music-movie cliché in this mythologized portrait of Chicago's proto rock 'n' roll label Chess Records. Fact: From the 1950s to the late 1960s, Chess--founded by a pair of Polish Jew brothers Leonard (Adrien Brody) and Phil (all but written out here) --releases a startling run of "race" (read: black) music, what would become profoundly influential electric blues and R&B from Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright) to Howlin' Wolf (Eamonn Walker) to Chuck Berry (Mos Def) to Etta James (Beyonce Knowles). Myth: Everything about that story is an apocryphal larger-than-life tale that makes all the people look like gods among mortals, able to change the face of modern American pop music were it not for certain weaknesses for women, booze, drugs, and other such sins of the flesh. Sure, there's a callous logic that goes with printing the proverbial legend, but so much cinematic distortion sucks the recognizably human life right out of the movie--as in, even next to amazingly talented Wright, Knowles is the only performance that bristles with engaging messiness. The less said about the pantomime musical performances, the better.

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