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Chicago (Widescreen Edition) (2002)

Musicals & Performing Arts movie directed by Rob Marshall

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"Razzle Dazzle Them!"

  • Nov 2, 2009
In Hollywood Musicals are funny things.  There are those that love them because they enjoy the singing and dancing, while others can't stand them because they're in no way realistic (and then they talk about how Disney classics are awesome BECAUSE they're not realistic... I don't get it).  Granted, no one ever just breaks out into song and dance and we could write a million jokes about how West Side Story might would be far less laughable without the singing and dancing (albeit, West Side Story is still a good movie).  On the other hand, one of the things musical films almost demand from those within them is talent.  Not just for acting, but for singing in dancing.  Chicago is a film that gets by as a musical and may even appeal to musical haters in part because of the unique style that Chicago pulls off. 

Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) wants to be a star.  She's living a downtrodden life at the moment.  She's just met a man named Fred Casely who says he can make her a star.  Unfortunately he lied just so that he could get into her pants (if a woman had a nickel for every time that happened...) and so she decided to shoot him.  That same night, a woman named Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta Jones) was arrested for the murder of her husband and sister.  The prologue of the movie opens up with an "All That Jazz," musical number that shows how Roxie came to murder Fred.  We don't learn much about Kelly here because she's the one who is actually performing "All That Jazz."  And it isn't just random breaking out into song and dance.  The film splices between showing Roxie with Fred and what happens and going back to Velma as she performs her show.  Despite not seeing how Velma murdered her husband and sister we are let in that that's the reason she's there in the first place.

The movie continues with Roxie's husband getting home and the police questioning him and Roxie about what happened with Fred.  This is where we first see the film's unique style come into play.  In most musicals there's always that random moment where the characters break out into song and dance about whatever.  Often it could just be expressed through dialog, but it's still entertaining at least.  For Chicago it adds a different take on it.  Roxie Hart is a character that dreams of being a star.  As a result she sees everything that happens throughout the movie as a glamourous stage.  Each and every musical number that takes place within the film is being filtered through Roxie's imagination.  You'll see any characte singing on a stage in elaborate outfits and dancing... but that's the fantasy.  Each portion of reality is shown as such.  In many instances these moments run parallel.  But the movie tries to pass off the singing and dancing as something that's taking place in reality.  In fact the movie is very good at letting you know that the elaborate stage and the awesome singing exist entirely within Roxie's imagination.  This is how she views the world.  As a result those who are put off by the whole, "Musicals suck because no one randomly breaks out into song and dance," can't really use that complaint with Chicago.  That won't make you love Chicago, of course, but it is to say that at least Chicago isn't splicing its singing and dancing with reality.

This also means, however, that the performances are better than you might expect.  At one moment--filtered through Roxie's imagination--you're watching as her Defense Attorney Billy Flynn (played extremely well by Richard Gere) is singing and dancing, but then when we aren't being shown the show going on in Roxie's head, we see an incredibly serious and charismatic man unlike what we've seen before.  So not only are they singing but also presenting some real dialog exchanges in the midst of a big story. 

If there was anything about Chicago's story that might hamper things a little, it would be that the film makes leaps in time but never tells the audience it's doing so.  One moment we see Velma Kelly performing at the beginning and the next she's in jail but we're completely ignorant of just how much time has passed.  It's really no big deal, but it can make certain moments of the story seem strange.  It keeps the pace moving forward but it wouldn't have hurt any to put in text at the bottom of the screen: "Three Months Later..." or something like that would've been nice (and it wouldn't have interrupted the flow in the slightest).  You'll be a bit too entertained by much of what's happening, however.

The musical performances are actually the best parts in the film.  The story is interesting enough, but the elaborate costumes and watching actors such as Renee Zellwegger and Catherine Zeta Jones sing and dance is a treat.  But best of all is that each performance is its own thing.  In many musicals you watch as each performance seems to be like the previous one.  Thus only the songs are enjoyable but not actually watching the dancing and such on its own.  This isn't the case with Chicago.  Rather each performance serves as either a metaphor or an elaborate depiction of what we're supposed to see.  They convey a lot of emotion.  The peformance, "Both Reached for the Gun," is displayed as Billy Flynn holding up a Roxie Hart puppet and making her talk as a way to show that he's running the show and that Roxie is only to speak when he makes her.  It's pretty cool stuff.  In another performance, John C. Reilly (who plays Roxie's husband) sings a song called "Mr. Cellophane" and moves with grace and emotion while in "reality" we watch as Billy Flynn and those around him don't know his name.  Thus when his performance comes up it seems as though he is expressing his disdain with being this invisible man.  The trial itself, along with the courtroom set up in the song "Razzle Dazzle" is portrayed as a circus act--exactly as Billy describes it. 

Because of how each performance is played off Chicago becomes something better than your average musical out there.  This is because no performance is being passed off as reality, but actually as something authentic.  So much so that each intermission between performances plays out like a waiting game because you want so badly to see the next song peformed.  The best of the performances actually comes from The Cell Block Tango during a song, "He Had it Coming," which probably shows Chicago's artistic motives the best.  

I could go on and write a million words about the great production values of this film.  Not just the singing and dancing in each performance but also the lighting, the razzle and dazzle and the costumes.  It's all done gracefully and eloquently and is beautiful to behold.  The film went on to be nominated for thirteen oscars.  It won six, including Best Picture--and deservedly so. 

I won't say that Chicago is a musical for those who don't like musicals.  If you don't like musicals Chicago isn't going to change your mind about them.  But you can definitely watch it and appreciate how much time and effort went into making the film in and of itself.  If you do love musicals, however, then you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not giving Chicago a chance. 

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November 06, 2009
I only saw parts of this movie because as you've said, there are those who just don't like musicals but I guess this was as good as it could possibly get. Zeta-Jones was real good from what I saw, I dunno about Gere. Nice review, you are showing a lot of range...
November 02, 2009
I like musicals but I think they are best in the theater. However, since some of the stars in this one are my favorites, am going to check it out and see if I can get a DVD of it here in China (DVDs are truly cheap here, originals for a mere $2!). For some reasons, I missed this in the cinema. Must have been traveling at that time :-) Thanks for the review!
More Chicago (2002) reviews
Quick Tip by . July 12, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Great singing and dancing as well as staging of difficult scenes that work on stage and sometimes do not work on film.
review by . May 28, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
Bob Fosse's "Chicago" is a spectacular and naughty musical. Two Showgirls (Rene'e Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones) are put in the slammer for each murdering their lovers. Their crimes of passion are presented as petty, but predictable in the Windy City during the Jazz Age. The only regrets they have are the gallows, and their only deliverance is a greedy and conceited lawyer (played by Richard Gere). Even though the women are desperate, they also crave the publicity that oddly gets them help …
review by . December 08, 2005
I've never seen the stage version of "Chicago", so I can't say if the movie was faithful to the source material, but judged on it's own by a pair of fresh eyes, "Chicago" was a lot of fun, especially considering I'm generally not crazy about movie musicals. No wait a minute........ Except for "West Side Story." After seeing this movie I clearly understand why it had won 6 Oscars including Best Picture.    Catherine Zeta Jones has a very nice voice and plays the confident Velma …
review by . July 29, 2003
Simply put, this is not your grandmothers type of musical. Its a musical about women who kill.. their boyfriends, their husbands, their sisters and whoever may have wronged them. And when they relate their stories in the show stopping performance of the Cell Block Tango, you quickly discover that the sultry ladies of the Cook County Jail have standards that differ from those of polite society. They are not very likely to win points of sympathy. So its from this rather questionable basis that …
review by . June 25, 2003
posted in Movie Hype
This film deserves all of the praise it receives, especially given the fact that it is derived from a Broadway musical (1973) which was, in turn, derived from two non-musical films, Chicago (1927) and Roxie Hart (1943). I can think of few other works of high quality which have such a heritage. (Can you name five film sequels which are superior to the original?) Crisply directed by Rob Marshall with choreography devised by Bob Fosse, this film operates simultaneously (and seamlessly) on two different …
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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Bob Fosse's sexy cynicism still shines inChicago, a faithful movie adaptation of the choreographer-director's 1975 Broadway musical. Of course the story, all about merry murderesses and tabloid fame, is set in the Roaring '20s, butChicagoreeks of '70s disenchantment--this isn't just Fosse's material, it's his attitude, too. That's probably why the movie's breathless observations on fleeting fame and fickle public taste already seem dated. However, Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones are beautifully matched as Jazz Age vixens, and Richard Gere gleefully sheds his customary cool to belt out a showstopper. (Yes, they all do their own singing and dancing.) Whatever qualms musical purists may have about director Rob Marshall's cut-cut-cut style, the film's sheer exuberance is intoxicating. Given the scarcity of big-screen musicals in the last 25 years, that's a cause for singing, dancing, cheering. And all that jazz.--Robert Horton
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Director: Rob Marshall
Genre: Music, Musical
DVD Release Date: August 19, 2003
Runtime: 113 minutes
Studio: Miramax Home Entertainment
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