The film version of Chicago is a dazzling
return to the Bob Fosse musical decked to the hilt with great
songs, stunning choreography and an exemplary cast. Renee
Zellweger is the ditzy starlet Roxie, Catherine Zeta-Jones
is vain diva Velma and Richard Gere is the slick lawyer Billy
Flynn who defends these two women on separate murder charges
in 1929 Chicago. Everyone's fighting to make the front page
in the tabloids and become a media darling. For them, the
world's the stage.
Attending the stage production of Chicago is one of life's
great pleasures, and it would seem impossible to expect the
film version to ever measure up. So many brilliantly written
characters and so much action takes place at once, and the
elaborate choreography requires the full spectrum of the stage.
What we know is that film can only capture little pieces at
a time, and while the eye may want to look in one direction,
editing a film allows you to only see what it wants to show
you, one piece at a time. Bob Fosse's vibrant, astonishing
stage version is breathtaking in its execution. Fosse's choreography
always had a genius and calculated tableaux of multiple performers
wrapped in tango. Some of his performers did dances in the
most seemingly impossible of pretzel entanglements. Fosse
did direct a couple of films in his career, including All
That Jazz in 1979, which is the greatest modern musical of
our time -- eye-popping visuals, sensual dance and awesome
surrealistic spectacle -- an unbeatable symbiosis of musical
choreography and cinema.
The film version of Chicago is done by first-time filmmaker
Rob Marshall, himself a former Broadway choreographer. What
he knows foremost is to not weigh the movie down with silly
histrionics -- he doesn't take the story's events seriously.
The story in something like this shouldn't be taken seriously,
with too much thought, because it's really all about the joy
of musicals. As a filmmaker, Marshall obviously has the instincts
to film a swift, rollicking musical. And like Fosse, he knows
what looks good on-screen. He knows how to use the camera
and effective lighting to show off his actors. Also resourced
with a good sense of camera movement and timing, the spectrum
of action of each set piece is vibrantly captured. Chicago
is nevertheless a big screen movie -- it needs the panorama
of a widescreen to work effectively. It wouldn't work as well
on video. This is good news anyway because it forces avid
moviegoers to get out of the house and treat a film like an
event. Bring a date and make it a good evening out.
Chicago is a welcome surprise because most film musicals
usually don't work as well as this. Indeed, it's still not
the equal of a theatrical experience but it's still loaded
with fun and the ticket prices are cheaper, too. Like the
stage version, the film has two knockout sequences with Cell
Block Tango and Razzle Dazzle. Another terrific asset is the
casting of Queen Latifah as a prison guard and John C. Reilly
as Roxie's hapless husband in two zesty supporting roles.
Chicago is hugely entertaining, a real movie, bursting with
song and dance... and all that jazz.