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Chicago (2002) – Movie Review

Chicago movie poster

Written by: Bill Condon, based on the musical by Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse, which was in turn based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins
Directed & Choreographed by: Rob Marshall
Starring: Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly

My Advice: Don’t miss it.

Roxanne “Roxie” Hart (Zellweger) wants to hit the stage in a big way. She idolizes jazz divas like Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones). Trouble is, she’s married to the loyal but dim-witted Amos (Reilly), who’s a mechanic–not really connected in the biz. She’s hooked up on the side with Fred (Dominic West), who promises to get her in touch with somebody down at a certain club. However, Fred turns out to be knocking the bottom out of Roxie with no payoff in sight–and thus humiliated and lied to, Roxie pulls out a gun and plugs Fred. Now she’s in the slammer and might just be heading for a noose, unless she can somehow get the prison matron, Mama (Latifah), to help Roxie get represented by hotshot lawyer Billy Flynn (Gere), while also avoiding the crosshairs of a D.A. (Colm Feore), who wants to wind up in the governor’s mansion.

[ad#longpost]If this film were any smoother, it would be frictionless. After a very long road through development hell, the film is good. Damn good. Chalk this up to pretty much everybody. Bill Condon managed to make the transition from stage to screen make sense, but his adaptation never loses the fact that this is not just a stage musical, but a musical that is grounded in the theatre. Cinematographer Dion Beebe and Editor Martin Walsh tag team some incredible visuals–and the transitions are so spot-on that it will take a second viewing to catch and appreciate everything they’ve got going on. Walsh gets bonus points for not editing his film in a ruinous way, like the fate of poor Moulin Rouge. And of course, Rob Marshall absolutely destroys his feature film debut with not only stunning choreography but a solid grasp on Condon’s material. A-mazing.

And, of course, you’ve got some great players pulling off that choreography–and they do all of it, including the singing (so specifies a credit at the end of the film). Zellweger is perfectly cute, selfish and evil. Zeta-Jones is wonderfully and lethally vampish. Queen Latifah shines as Mama, busting out all over and belting out her particular tune. The standout of the flick, though, is Gere–who not only taps and sings, but plays the most opportunistic bastard of an attorney to hit the screen in sometime. He plays everybody like a finely tuned instrument, and it’s just fun as hell to watch him do his thing. A nod goes to Taye Diggs, who gives his best performance in a while as the bandleader, emceeing your way through the songs as the characters do their things.

Snazzy as pure flaming hell, it’s gorgeous and amazing. This film has what it takes to revitalize the movie musical, and it’s about time. Be sure to catch it on the big screen to get the full effect.

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