Directed by Darnell Martin


Cadillac Records just “isn’t as great as the music it showcases,” said Leah Rozen in People. Darnell Martin’s film tells the story of Chicago’s Chess Records and the black artists it helped make famous. Polish immigrant Leonard Chess founded the label in the 1940s. In the years that followed, he introduced the world to such legendary acts as Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, and Etta James. Juggling so many big personalities, Cadillac Records “spins too many stories” and leaves audiences with a case of narrative whiplash.

Martin tries to cram all these musicians’ “complicated individual stories” into the label’s larger history, said Christy Lemire in the Associated Press. The film feels “even more cursory and rushed than the average music biopic.”

Some details may be missing, but that hardly matters, said David Edelstein in New York. The “major themes are beautifully worked out,” and the all-star cast is “stupendous.” Yet Adrien Brody as Chess, Jeffrey Wright as Waters, Mos Def as Berry, and Beyoncé as James are all outshone by the music itself.