Unless you've been exiled to the Patagonia for the past twenty years,
then maybe you might not know the premise of Rob Marshall's perfect
rendition of Bob Fosse's CHICAGO which depicts the lurid events
surrounding a pair of murderesses, their shady lawyer, and the media
circus which ensues.
Kept on hold for years and going through a revolving door of directors and actors slated to play the leads and supporting players, and benefiting from the smash success of Baz Luhrmann's MOULIN ROUGE!, CHICAGO manages to virtually re-invent and resuscitate the musical to its fullest. Featuring dazzling visuals and musical numbers which segue seamlessly from scene to scene as it delves into Roxie Hart's vivid inner dialogue (with some exceptions, such as Velma Kelly's rendition of "I Can't Do it Alone" or Mama Morton's "When You're Good to Mama"), Rob Marshall breaks down the walls which in other way would have made the story less mobile.
CHICAGO tells the story of Roxie Hart, a vague young thing married to a colorless man, Amos Hart (John C. Reilly), but carrying on with a low-life Fred Caseley (Dominic West) who's made more promises than he can keep. She shoots him dead, and is thrown in jail where she meets Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a vaudeville star who's also in for the murder of her sister and lover, whom she found in bed together. The rousing musical number, "Cell Block Tango" is the show-stopper here, where Velma and five other inmates tell their story of how they arrived in jail. It is visually stunning, with each of the women using blood-red scarves which they use to describe their murders, and the dancers are in top form, sexy, ferocious, and dangerous -- pure Fosse material.
Into the story comes Matron 'Mama' Morton (Queen Latifah) who hooks Velma up with Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), the hot lawyer who takes on her case. Roxie, seeing she is down on her luck, has Amos hire Flynn, and he turns her story into the thing of tabloid fodder: soon everyone is following Roxie's move down to her hairstyle, and this of course causes Velma to go into a fit of jealousy since the spotlight has been taken away from her.
When seeing CHICAGO, it's not hard to compare it with the real-life circus shows that the trials of Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson have become. The climactic court scene in which Billy Flynn literally tap-dances his audience into exonerating Roxie despite the obvious evidence as showgirls pirouette over the bumbling witnesses is one that blurs the lines of reality with fiction, and the rapid editing sparkles in sheer brilliance. People don't want to hear the true story even though they may say so; to see Roxie as the innocent waif and Velma as the glamorous star is all they want as expressed by the movie's conclusion. Killers become media darlings and use up their fifteen minutes of fame -- that is, until then next lurid murder.
Fantastic performances are all over this film. Catherine Zeta-Jones brings forth the energy of a very young Joan Crawford who made a number of dance-oriented films early in her career. Richard Gere, ignored at Oscar time, stands out in his smarmy part and proves his capacity for dance and song, especially in his "We Both Reached For the Gun" number with Christine Baranski playing Mary Sunshine. Renee Zellweger reveals a vulnerable persona as Roxie Hart and comes across a little Marilyn Monroe, a little Ginger Rogers, and totally breathless, as in her two beautiful numbers "Funny Honey" and "Roxie". We don't expect her to sing well -- she's a wannabe star. Queen Latifah smolders as 'Mama,' so much that I wanted more of her. She reminded me of Sophie Tucker (whom the film mentions), all brass, tough, and sexy, and a less self-conscious Mae West. Her "When You're Good to Mama' is a more subtle take from Mary McCarty's growling number which made every line a symbol of double entendre. John C. Reilly plays the sap affectionately, and what a number he has! "Mr. Cellophane" is the saddest song ever, which he performs as the clown he has become. All in all, Rob Marshall has created a powerful, lurid film, made darker due to much of its subject matter but treated as if it were SINGING IN THE RAIN, full of instant classic sequences, and ending in a full applause.
Action / Comedy / Crime / Musical
Action / Comedy / Crime / Musical
Murderesses Velma Kelly (a chanteuse and tease who killed her husband and sister after finding them in bed together) and Roxie Hart (who killed her boyfriend when she discovered he wasn't going to make her a star) find themselves on death row together and fight for the fame that will keep them from the gallows in 1920s Chicago.
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August 12, 2011 at 10:10 PM