As any artist knows, though, the “next big thing” is always just around the corner. And it’s not long before Muddy is no longer the only talent in town. There’s Muddy’s out-of-control protégé, Little Walter (Columbus Short), deep-voiced prodigy Howlin’ Wolf (Eamonn Walker) and the guy who officially kick-started the rock scene, Chuck Berry (Mos Def). Not focusing too long on any one character, the audience is only allowed a quick snapshot into their respective lives. While this is good for anyone who is a little A-D-D, it doesn’t exactly foster much in the way of character development. Thankfully, the crop of truly excellent songs selected seriously makes up the difference. And rather than simply lip-syncing to previously recorded tracks, each actor does his own singing which helps him own the songs he’s performing.

One of the movies’ biggest surprises isn’t from one of the male cast members, though. It’s Beyoncé Knowles' performance as Etta James that’s truly remarkable. Unlike 2006’s Dreamgirls or 2003’s The Fighting Temptations where her acting was a little flat at best, here Knowles shines as the conflicted, smack-addicted blues singer of romantic gems like “At Last.” And when she’s singing, Knowles is good enough to make you forget that she’s Beyoncé of “Crazy in Love” fame, rapper Jay Z’s wife or Sasha Fierce, her alter-ego namesake on her current album.

It’s those soul-stirring performances (especially from Knowles), a fantastic musical score and an intriguing story of breaking boundaries—racially and otherwise—that eventually elevate Cadillac Records, even it’s technically just another biopic. It’s a familiar cautionary tale, for sure, but one that’s timeless enough to capture your attention for a couple of hours.
      
CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking and making music go hand in hand in the movie. There are also a couple of smack addicts in the bunch (Etta James, in particular, who is shown in really bad shape after an overdose in one scene).
  • Language/Profanity:  This is where the bulk of the “R” rating comes from. In addition to racial epitaphs and instances where the Lord’s name is taken in vain, there’s a steady stream of foul language, mostly the word motherf—.
  • Sex/Nudity:  In true sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll fashion, part of these artists’ rise to the top included extramarital affairs. There are a couple of quick scenes where sex is depicted—no explicit nudity. And in the case of Chuck Berry, a threesome with Caucasian girls gets him in trouble with the law (bare breasts are flashed in one backseat rendezvous).
  • Violence:  When Little Walter drinks, he gets out of control. At one point, he shoots a man who stole his stage name. He shoots another guy later as well. And it’s a violent attack that ends up ending his life.

 
 
Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.