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September 9, 2009
Cadillac Records Blu-Ray Movie Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
30/4/20099/9/2009Sony PicturesDarnell Martin
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4Dolby TrueHD 5.1MAdrien Brody

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Caddilac Records - musicians were paid with cars!

In recent years we have seen a string of movies highlighting the careers of musicians. Ray saw Jamie Fox in his Academy Award winning role of Ray Charles, while Joaquin Phoenix was superb as Johnny Cash in Walk The Line. Cadillac Records doesn't focus on a single person as much, but rather a record studio built by a Jewish immigrant from Poland, which produced and nurtured some of the most popular artists in America at the time and, at the same time, managed to break down many racial divides.

Cadillac Records chronicles the rise of Leonard Chess' (Adrien Brody) Chess Records and its recording artists including Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Little Walter (Columbus Short), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), Willie Dixon (Cedric The Entertainer) and the great Etta James (Beyoncé Knowles). In this tale of sex, violence, race and rock and roll in Chicago in the 1950s and 60s, the film follows the exciting but turbulent lives of some of America's greatest musical legends.

While it's not the best movie about musician's ever put to celluloid it certainly deserved to do better then the paltry $US8.5 million box office. Direction from Darnell Martin is fairly impressive with a good focus on a range of characters rather then just the leads, and some brilliant set design to capture the look and feel of the mid 20th Century.

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Cadillac Records is set in the 1950's/1960's.
What really makes this movie shine is the brilliant cast, and the brilliant performances by every single individual. Adrian Brody is superb as Leonard Chess and he carries the movie so well, however it's the supporting cast playing all the musicians the brings this movie to life. Jeffrey Wright (who many would know as Felix Leiter in the two recent James Bond movies) is brilliant as a friend of Leonard's. I must also say that Beyoncé Knowles is simply stunning as Etta James. It's not the easiest of roles as she battles drug addiction and a harsh upbringing but Beyoncé has, yet again, proven her worth as an actress.

Ultimately if you enjoyed Ray or Walk the Line then you should also get quite a bit out of Cadillac Records. The music is brilliant, and the acting superb which makes this worth a watch in itself.

The opening moments of this film are a major concern with both the Tristar and Sony Music Film logos both exhibiting some colour banding and compression artifacts. Fortunately when the film starts the image is considerably better, with a somewhat muted and sepia tone which helps set the period nature of the movie. The video is presented in 2.35:1 using the AVC MPEG-4 codec and offers a great improvement in sharpness over the DVD release. Having said that this movie, isn't one which 'pop's off the screen and looks amazing, but that's most likely just how the filmmakers intended it.

Overall Cadillac Records has a pleasing presentation on Blu-Ray which manages to convey the style of the era, and shows off the many unique locations and wonderful sets used during the production.

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Beyoncé Knowles, brilliant as Etta James.

We're always touting the benefits of Blu-Ray in the video department with the increase in resolution and colour reproduction, but the one area of Blu-Ray that also sees a massive improvement is the audio, although it is probably not instantly recognisable if you haven't got the equipment to make full benefit of the lossless codecs. We do have the equipment here and Cadillac Records with its Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track (16-bit/48Khz) is one movie which benefits from the increased bitrate and clarity as a result. What really impresses it the music tracks littered throughout the movie with Beyoncé brilliant as Etta Jones.

On the flipside some of the accents put on by the actors are very thick southern ones (especially from Jeffrey Wright and his character Muddy Waters) and it makes this movie a little hard to understand at times. While the may have been how the real people spoke, it still doesn't make it too easy to understand in this film.

There are quite a few other languages on this disc including a Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 640kbps, French and Spanish Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks which both have the same quality and clarity as the English track. There are three other Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks encoded at 640kbps including Czech, Hungarian and Polish, with the Polish track merely dubbing the Polish voices over the English ones which are still audible. Subtitles are provided in pretty much every European language and include English and English SDH, with subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Dutch and Romanian also provided for the commentary track.

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Music in Cadillac Records is superb.
Cadillac Records comes to Blu-Ray with a few extras so let's get onto the content then...

Commentary with Writer/Director Darnell Martin: Writer/Director Darnell certainly knows the subject matter presented in this film and the information about the history and production is conveyed in an engaging and interesting fashion, although at times she is a little stop-start when talking. It's worth a listen if you liked the movie or are interested in the subject matter.

The Chess Record Player: This is an interesting Java based feature in which you can mark your favourite tracks and the easily replay them or send them to your friends. Without other people with this disc we couldn't test this but would understand some people loving this and kudos to Sony for trying some new things.

Deleted Scenes (4:56): Five short deleted scenes are included here, and disappointingly they are only presented in Standard Definition.

Playing Chess: The Making of Cadillac Records (26:10/HD): While there is a little too much replaying of scenes from the movie this featurette shows some great behind the scenes footage, and has some great interviews with cast and crew as well as detailing a little more of the background and story. Well put together and worth a look.

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Adrien Brody and Jeffrey Wright.
Once Upon a Blues: Cadillac Records by Design (15:37/HD): This featurette looks at creating this movie to tell the story of this era of music, and change. A focus is on the design of the sets for this film including setting the film in the 1950's.

Trailers (7:48/HD): Trailers for "Blu-Ray is High Definition", Seven Pounds, Rachel Getting Married and Hancock.

If you have any interest in music during the mid 20th century then Cadillac Records is a movie worth checking out. It's not quite up there with Ray or Walk the Line, however it remains an entertaining movie with some great music. A brilliant transfer and a couple of decent extras makes this a release worth checking out on Blu-Ray.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyright© Sony Pictures. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.