Film review: Chicago (2002), directed by Rob Marshall
tl;dr: This musical-turned-film has got some bangin’ tunes!
In 1926 Maurine Dallas Watkins wrote a satirical play about the criminal justice system and “celebrity criminals”, based on actual crimes and criminals she had been reporting on. In 1975 it was turned into a musical with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. The latter also turned it into a book with Bob Fosse. In 2002 it became a film.
It’s the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties. Entertainer Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is arrested on stage for a double homicide. In the audience is Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) and her lover Fred Casely (Dominic West). He has promised to get her on stage, saying he has contacts, but in reality he is a furniture salesman … and a married man. Hearing her dream of getting on stage shatter and that it was all a ruse to get her into bed, Roxie snaps and kills him. Her naive husband, Amos (John C Reilly) first takes the blame, saying he shot an intruder, but this story quickly falls apart and Roxie is imprisoned awaiting trial.
At first Roxie is star struck seeing the glamorous Velma, who still gets attention from the press and countless admirers, and then she realises that she too can achieve fame simply for being a murderer. Hiring expensive lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) means she’s likely to be declared innocent, and then the world’s her oyster.
Turning musicals into films can have mixed results, but Chicago blends the two very well. We get a mixture of the cast singing on a stage, introduced by a bandleader (Taye Diggs), as a kind of daydreaming aside, or how they picture themselves while they’re actually singing inside a prison. It works as a format.
Sometimes musicals are great on stage but they don’t transfer well to film – Mamma Mia! springs to mind. It’s whimsical and fluffy and feels like it would be fun to see at a theatre in the West End, but when you take the same outlandish whimsy and put it in a film, it’s not fluffy, it’s just ridiculous. Fortunately, Chicago is miles better, and incidentally Christine Baranski is actually in both, but in Chicago she’s a reporter. Richard Gere is also a vastly better singer than Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth put together, which probably also helps.
On the state’s attorney’s side is Harrison (Colm Feore), who I don’t remember singing much. Nor does what’s little more than a cameo from Lucy Liu as the next murderer to take the spotlight. We do get solo numbers from everyone else, like When You’re Good To Momma by prison matron Mama Morton (Queen Latifah), Amos’s sad clown song Mr. Cellophane, and Billy Flynn’s grand entrance, All I Care About. There are so many songs that are simply amazing, and I dare anyone who’s seen this to not hum a certain line from the Cell Block Tango when the right circumstances present themselves.
I’m into the whole Jazz Age thing anyway, and the music feels like it fits in with that era. It’s not just that it’s a film with a solid and memorable soundtrack, it even won awards. Zeta-Jones won a whole bunch of them for her performance, including an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The film itself is the first musical to have won the Oscar for Best Picture since 1968. Zellweger and Gere both picked up Golden Globes. It’s not just a great musical, it’s also a really well done film. Zellweger does a great job going from wide-eyed innocent airhead to cold and calculating murderer, seemingly at the drop of a hat, and Zeta-Jones is phenomenal.
But yeah, I would watch this film again, but moreover, I would listen to this soundtrack on repeat. It really is that good.
5 out of 5 faked diary entries.