Cadillac Records looks at postwar Chicago and musicians who gravitated there - Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Chuck Berry and Etta James - and the Chess Records label, which recorded and promoted so much of their work. Although writer/director Darnell Martin's movie plays fast and loose with many of the historical facts, her aim is dead-on in terms of nailing the spirit of the thing. Cadillac Records bobs and weaves, strides and duckwalks, samples and smiles on the sounds that made urban Chicago such a blues melting pot.
At the center is Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody), a white club owner who trades in that club for a recording studio on Chicago's South Side. There, with his brother (who is nowhere to be found in this movie), he recorded throughout the '50s and '60s.
The actors cast as the bluesmen and -women are spectacular. Jeffrey Wright looks little like Muddy Waters but his performance captures a sense of the "mannish boy." As Howlin' Wolf, Eamonn Walker gives one of the standout performances of the year; Mos Def delivers a believable Chuck Berry impersonation; and Beyoncé as Etta James is a complete revelation.