CHICAGO (2002) 

Renee Zellweger
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Richard Gere
John C. Reilly
Queen Latifah
Christine Baranski
Taye Diggs
Dominic West
Lucy Lui
Chita Rivera

Rob Marshall




Time: 113 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Musical/Comedy

Won Academy Awards for Costume, Art Direction, Editing, Sound, Supporting Actress and Best Picture. Nominated for Best Actress, Director, Song, Cinematography and Adapted Screenplay.

The movie musical is back and better than ever. Having never seen the stage version, I have no idea if this is an accurate interpretation and I don't care. Marshall creates a perfect union of music and drama, that's energetic, flashy, smart, funny and downright sexy. Not as outrageously whimsical, tragic or visceral as MOULIN ROUGE, CHICAGO still manages to marry traditional filmmaking with musical magic. Zellweger and Zeta-Jones are perfectly cast as uncaring killers with hearts of stone and dreams of gold. They take on quite a task physically and vocally, proving they are not only attractive actresses, but quite competent chanteuses as well.

Their vocal styles are polar opposites – Zeta-Jones is sultry and forceful, Zellweger soft and sweet – yet they each carry a power that can't be ignored. Gere suffers in comparison on the vocal front, but he more than delivers in the real world sequences. His performance as a scum bag lawyer looking for a quick buck and long term publicity is a role he could play in his sleep, yet he shows more spark and charisma here than he has in a very long time. Not an award-winning turn in my opinion, but one that makes the film more enjoyable.

The film opens on the night singing sensation Velma Kelly (Jones) is arrested for murdering her husband and sister. Roxie Hart (Zellweger), a performer desperate to enter the showbiz world, winds up in the slammer with Kelly after shooting her own lover, a furniture salesman who promised to help make her a star. By greasing the palms of the prison warden, Momma Morton (Latifah), they each enlist the services of Billy Flynn (Gere), the only lawyer in Chicago to never lose a case. In it more for the publicity than the cash, Billy turns from Velma to Roxie since her headlines are bigger. Unfortunately, if he loses, Roxie hangs.

Of course, all she cares about is how big her career is going to be when she beats the rap. Velma doesn't take too kindly to being usurped by a nobody, so she enlists the help of Morton to try to unseat Roxie in the eyes of the public and the mind of Billy. Though blond, Roxie is smarter than she looks, working the papers for every possible bit of sympathy she can get. Even with Billy's clever showmanship, it's going to take a lot to convince a jury of her innocence. Especially since she admits she committed the crime. It's a fight to the finish with flash and falsehoods winning over justice.

"In this town, murder's a form of entertainment."

First time director Rob Marshall throws his talent in the ring with the big boys and comes out a champion. Everything about this production is amazing from the sets and costumes to the acting and singing. The sometimes awkward musical convention that has people bursting into song out of nowhere is cleverly avoided by a plot device that has all the song and dance numbers happen in Roxie's head. Her fervent desire to be in show business clouds her mind and creates these elaborate sequences. She sees herself as a star and the world as her stage, so they never seem out of place. In fact, the musical numbers are the best part of the film, moving the story along in energetic, witty, sexy and utterly eye-popping ways. The plot is nothing all that new, but the music makes the story seem fresh and vibrant. The choreography, cinematography and editing transform this stage piece into a true cinematic experience of light, sound and movement, especially in the dance numbers. Which, unlike in MOULIN ROUGE, you could actually appreciate and enjoy what the dancers were doing. These ladies, including Zeta-Jones, will knock your socks off.

The film loses some steam about two-thirds of the way through, since there isn't really much of a story to flesh out. Plus, all the fun numbers, like the Cellblock Tango, All That Jazz and When You're Good to Mama, occur in the front half of the film. Once they get to the trial, nothing seems to really matter because we know Billy's going to come up with some way to get Roxie off. However, Marshall brings the courtroom circus to life, literally, in a way we've all thought about but never seen before. This is Gere's moment to shine and he fulfills his duties in a big, big way. Zellweger also astounds, bringing depth, strength and humor to what could have been another dumb blond role. My respect for both her and Zeta-Jones has expanded ten-fold. Their performances are ballsy, entrancing and unforgettable. Don't let the fact that this is a musical stop you from seeing this film. There's no hearts and flowers to be found here. Just two cold-hearted, gorgeous, ambitious dames looking to make it to the big time. A film that completely delivered on my expectations – a rarity these days.

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