Chicago


Directed by: Rob Marshall
Written by:Bill Condon
Starring: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Lucy Liu, Christine Baranski, Taye Diggs
Released: January 23, 2003
Grade: A+

The Hollywood musical is back.  Moulin Rouge unlocked the door and the genre is primed to bring back memories for generations past and be introduced to those a little younger.  Miramax Studios has had an Academy Award best picture nominee for ten consecutive years and the award-hungry company will continue the trend with Chicago having all the qualities of a sure Oscar winner.

After playing as a musical on Broadway for almost three decades, the time has arrived to tell the story to a bigger audience.  The theatrical show has been loved and adored by so many but a movie version provided unique opportunities.  It allowed every scene to be re-shot until perfected, it allowed bigger sets and real-life locations to be exploited, and most importantly, it allowed varying camera angles to bring razzle-dazzle to the whole production.  42-year-old director Rob Marshall, who has a heavy background in Broadway, has made full use of these opportunities and his direction can only be described as flawless.

There is a perfectly seamless mix between songs and spoken words.  The introductions to the songs are remarkably well timed and there are no examples of poorly timed music throwing the audience into a lull.  Songs dominate the opening two thirds of the film and once you get past the initial reluctance of having people sing rather than tell this story, you’ll appreciate the words to these songs and the way they shape the story.

If you’re unfamiliar, Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones) is a nightclub star before being arrested for the murder of her sister and husband.  Roxie Hart (Zellweger) is a wanna-be performer who has just shot and killed her lover on discovering he had lied about getting her an act.  Both are in jail awaiting trial and the only person who can get them off is the stylish lawyer Billy Flynn (Gere) who’s never lost a case.

After working on Velma’s case and getting her great publicity, Billy performs the same media trickery for Roxie and soon she starts dominating newspaper headlines as a wrongly imprisoned sweetheart who acted in self defence.  But there’s only room on the front page for one name and Velma isn’t happy to relinquish her mantle.  Roxie is the new star.  But both plan on using the press to clear there names and will be prepared to betray each other to do it....

All the main cast members get the opportunity to sing with Zeta-Jones the standout.  Zellweger has an annoyingly high-pitched voice and whilst you may hate it, it’s perfectly suited to her character.  These musical numbers are Chicago’s heart and it’s Marshall’s direction coupled with the ideal cast that will leave your eyes glued to the screen.  It’s a completely original concept - a mix of a people acting in reality with the same people performing on Broadway - and the camera moves back and forth between the two.  Don’t ask me how this was visualised on paper but I’m sure Oscar winning writer Bill Condon (Gods & Monsters) was another big influence.

It’s looks a shoe-in to claim the coveted Academy Award and a worthy musical for the honour.  That’s Chicago.