Review: Chicago

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

As a movie reviewer, I follow the movie industry a little more closely than the regular Joe. Due to this, I know that the chief of Miramax pictures is Harvey Weinstein. From what I have read about him, he is an fat, demanding, brazen, award-greedy man. Despite these things, you have to admire him for finally letting Chicago see the insides of a movie projector, at the expensive (or it may be to his advantage when the final box office receipts are totaled...) of his company. Last year brought us Moulin Rouge, and Nicole Kidman’s big breakout role. Not only did it prove that Nicole Kidman can act, it proved that America is once again ready for musicals. With Chicago, only the second big budget musical (along with Moulin Rouge) in 5+ years, musicals are earning a great reputation among movie goers, and I must agree. Chicago is a tour de force of singing, dancing, acting, visuals, and all that jazz...

When Chicago first debuted on stage in 1975, it was not the critical darling it is today. This is because the movie’s subject matter on the justice system was so avant garde. Now that we have had O.J., Winona and Robert Blake, the court room basis of the movie seems more of its time, and can finally be appreciated in cinema form. I am overjoyed that the film version has turned out to be one of the best movies of the year, I think we owed it to Bob Fosse and Chicago after all these years.

Its Chicago, the roarin’ 20’s, and fighting the justice system is Roxie Hart. A pretty blonde whose dream is to have her own show (dancing/burlesque). When she shoots her lover in rage, Roxie is sent to prison and will likely be hanged. In prison, she meets Velma Kelly, a famous dancer who has everything Roxie wants. Fame, her name securely in the headlines, and her own show when she gets out of prison. Things start to get dirty when Roxie hires the same lawyer that Velma has, the notorious Billy Flynn. Billy has never lost a case for a female, he has the press in his pocket (or I should say as his puppets), and he has charisma leaking out the ears. As Roxie’s trail date approaches, one question is on all of Chicago’s mind: guilty or innocent?

It would be almost presumptuous for me to suggest any flaws with the Chicago plot. The Roxie Hart/Velma Kelly/Billy Flynn story is as imbedded in our pop culture as James Bond or Harry Potter. What is important that the plot do, is set a backdrop to the musical numbers, be brisk as to keep the movie rolling and fresh, and have enough substance to keep us satisfied with the story. Chicago of course does all these things, and I say just leave it at that.

Chicago’s main attraction is of course the music numbers. They are numerous, always unique, and memorable. Even a week after the film, 4 songs are still spinning in my head. It is a great accomplishment if a movie/musical can keep one in your head, but thanks to some great lyrics, the beat of Chicago is its own. Just as important are the sets to which this musicals are sang. They range from the simple, “Mr. Cellophane” and “Cell Block Tango” to the wildly flamboyant, the Circus song and the Puppet song. Most important though is that each setting compliments its corresponding song nicely. Some of the songs required significant dancing, for example, the final sequence, Billy Flynn’s tap dance, and “All That Jazz.” When it comes to the heavy on dancing numbers, Chicago delivers in terms of choreography.

When a movie version of Chicago was first mulled over, Goldie Hawn and Madonna were originally envisioned for the roles. Imagining that now is like imagining box office poison (Swept Away?), but now in 2002 we have 2 major box draws, Renee Zellweger, who is still feeling the positive effects of Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Catherine Zeta-Jones who couldn’t have been more perfect for Velma Kelly. Making a duo into a trio, Richard Gere joins the women as their lawyer Billy Flynn. With three choice actors, we know they will be able to act, but can they sing? Oh can they! Expectedly, Catherine Zeta-Jones is the stand out, and Renee Zellweger proves that she too is 100% competent of singing work. This is certainly Richard Gere’s comeback role after a string of flops, he has proven he can handle big budget films, AND sing!

In supporting roles, John C. Reilly and Queen Latifah threaten to outshine the three main leads with a stand out song of their own. We knew Queen could sing, but could she sing show tunes? The answer is an surprising yes. She has one of the more provocative songs with “If you’re good to Mama, Mama good to you,” and we can’t wait to see her other song, “Class” on the DVD. (“Class” was left on the cutting room floor because it was deemed to risque, and would have given the movie an R rating.) For John C. Reilly, this is his 4th, yes 4th great role of the year. He has been praised for roles in Gangs of New York, The Good Girl, The Hours, and here is Chicago. Reilly plays sympathetic husband, Amos Hart, and gets to sing “Mr. Cellophane,” one of the standout songs, mainly do to his vocals.

Come this summer or spring, Chicago is going to be flying off the shelves as a DVD. Right now, it deserves to be flying past your eyes in the movie seats. Chicago is the epitome of wonderful movie making. When I went to see Chicago, my showing sold-out, and unlike some movies, this did not deter my viewing experience, in fact, it only helped the hype of the movie. Chicago is the movie to see this Holiday season, and if not then, then the first movie you should see in the new year!

© 2003 Jacob Sproul

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