With the right song and dance, you can get away with murder.
"5,6,7,8..." The jazz bands playing in Chicago cover up the gunshots of scorned women, but the music can’t keep them hidden away. Wannabe vaudeville star Roxie Hart (Zellweger) is in jail for murder. To the press, her crime is small change compared with the double homicide committed by elusive club singer Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones). What’s a little time on the cellblock when you’re on the front page of every paper in town? With top lawyer Billy Flynn (Gere) working on her case, Ms. Kelly is sitting pretty. Roxie recruits the help of Mama Morton (Latifah) who’ll do anything as long as she gets her slice of the pie. How can Roxie stay focused on winning her trial, when all of Chicago is dying for her attention?
Set in 1920s Chicago, this classic piece of cinema is based on the critically acclaimed stage musical of the same name. Refreshingly, this film stands on its own as a brilliantly directed script with great cinematography and an amazing cast. Marshall was not well known before this film but has subsequently directed Memoirs of a Geisha and last year’s hit, Nine. He combines the media of film and theatre excellently, ensuring what happens on screen is vastly different from what can be done on stage. The film skips surreally from reality to stage show; maintaining a light atmosphere even though the plot is as serious as murder.
Zellweger excels as the fame-hungry cutie who finds herself in a different world to the one she used to know. The major shiner, however, is Zeta-Jones, who belts out real talent and well deserves the Oscar she won. For fans of the stage show this is a must! Even if you’re the tough masculine type who wouldn’t be caught dead at a musical, there are enough scantily clad women to keep your eyes glued.
Roxie Hart (Zellweger) is a married woman desperate to make it on the Chicago vaudeville stage. After a moment of madness in which she shoots her lover, Hart is arrested and taken off to prison, where she meets Velma Kelley (Zeta-Jones), a stage star who was one half of a double act until she killed her sister - her co-star - and her husband when she caught them together.
While in prison, Roxie is helped by Matron ‘Mama’ Morton (Queen Latifah), who puts her in touch with Billy Flynn (Gere) - the best lawyer Chicago has to offer, and a great publicist to boot. As both women try to sing and dance their way to freedom, the audience is shown both the glamorous and the seedy sides of the Chicago legal system.
Chicago continues what seems to have been a recent rebirth of the Hollywood film musical, and while it certainly borrows from its predecessors (it owes a great deal to Cabaret’s sensibility, Moulin Rouge’s frenetic style and even Bugsy Malone’s staging), there is a great deal to admire here. The costumes and set decoration are designed to perfection and the cinematography and editing combine to provide a true spectacle.
Of course, what really makes or breaks a musical is the cast, and here Chicago is somewhat hit and miss. Renée Zellweger belts as much as she can while Richard Gere looks slightly more uncomfortable when required to sing and dance - a shame, since his seedy lawyer is perfect while he’s actually acting. Special praise must go to John C. Reilly, who is quite superb as Roxie’s long suffering and excruciatingly put upon husband Amos (and one of the only characters who invites true empathy), and Queen Latifah, who shows what a real singer can do in a film like this, selling her number like no other can. But this is Catherine Zeta-Jones’s show. Effortlessly brushing aside Zellweger every time the two share the screen, she’s a true Hollywood star in the best tradition and the real star of Chicago. Her rendition of All That Jazz kicks off the film in the best possible way, and her turn in the courtroom scene radiates Hollywood star power.
Winner of six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for Zeta-Jones, Chicago is a real treat, inviting the audience to simply revel in its style, exuberance and sheer audacity.
Screenings of this film:
|2002/2003 Summer Term – (35mm)|
|2002/2003 Summer Term – (35mm)|
|2009/2010 Summer Term – (35mm)|