Murderesses Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) (a chanteuse and tease who killed her husband and sister after finding them in bed together) and Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) (who killed her boyfriend when she discovered he wasn't going to make her a star) find themselves on death row together and fight for the fame that will keep them from the gallows in 1920s Chicago.Written by
During the song "Cell Block Tango" Hunyak (Ekaterina Chtchelkanova) speaks in Hungarian, but Chtchelkanova is Russian and her accent makes the speech very difficult to understand, even for native speakers of Hungarian. See more »
There are 50 stars on the US flag in the courtroom (should be 48). See more »
You see, ever since I can remember, I've wanted to be on the stage.
Oh yeah? What's your talent; washing and drying?
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The title "CHICAGO" appears as a "C" in the middle of a zoom of Roxie's eye, then the rest of the letters light up around it. See more »
The musical number "Class," featuring Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta-Jones, was deleted from the final version of the film. However, it was recut into the movie for a brief, extremely limited theatrical re-release in the summer of 2003. It then appeared on DVD as a bonus feature, but was NOT intercut there. See more »
Superb Direction and Editing Brings Chicago to Life
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, Broadway musicals which are heavy on concept translate poorly to film. Live theater relies upon some level of interaction with the audience (as well as some degree of spontaneity), creating an artificial atmosphere that gives a director freedom to use staging and theatrical devices that can make the most of such interaction. By contrast, film creates an illusion of reality that makes such theatrical devices look phony. Rob Marshall's "Chicago" provides the exception to this rule.
To tell the truth, I've never been much of a fan of the stage show. Bob Fosse (with help from John Kander and Fred Ebb) designed the show as a series of vaudeville skits tied together by the flimsiest of books. If you like revues with great choreography, the show worked fine; if you were looking for an actual "musical", you were better advised to look elsewhere. Prior to this film, I'd have thought that you'd also have to look elsewhere to find good material for a film.
Then came Rob Marshall. Conceiving the show as events as seen through Roxie Hart's (Renee Zellweger) imagination, the dance numbers become believable because she truly sees all the world as a stage. In effect, what Marshall has done is substitute Roxie for the theater's live audience and, in the process, made the theatrical touches plausible within the film's context. In doing so, Marshall has relied upon superb editing and choreography to keep up the pace and continuity (such as it is) of the film.
Perhaps the best example of this is "Cell Block Tango," which on stage is a stylized number that is removed from the central action of what book there is. In the film, the number arises from various conversations Roxie has had with other prisoners, focused through her show-biz crazy mind, and puts her own acts in context. Likewise, "They Both Reached for the Gun," played as a ventiloquist act in which her mouthpiece Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) pulls both Roxie's strings and those of the press, and uses Roxie's mind as the filter to point up the ease in which the public can be manipulated.
In choreographing these numbers, Marshall has also done an impressive job. Rather than merely revive Fosse's choreography from the 1975 production, he seems inspired by it to create new choreography that plays off the editing for maximum effect. The two aforementioned numbers are excellent examples of this choreographic technique, as well as "All That Jazz" (intercutting between a vaudeville dance act and two plot threads), "Mr. Cellophane" (beautifully performed by John C. Reilly, as Roxie's schlepp of a husband), "I Can't Do It Alone" and "Razzle Dazzle." Marshall also allows a dose of sanity to slip into the proceedings with a non-musical number, in which a seemingly wrongfully convicted woman is put to death -- the scene slams the brakes for a moment, lest we be completely seduced by the glitter or Roxie's perspective, and lose our own rational perspective on right, wrong and justice. It's a jarring moment, but a responsible (and some may say necessary) one.
The performances are, for the most part, up to the task. Catherine Zeta-Jones richly earned her Oscar as Velma Kelly -- vocally, choreographically, and in the acting department. Gere is also very good (his tap dance number is truly impressive), and John C. Reilly (as Roxie's schlepp husband) and Queen Latifah (as an opportunistic warden) are outstanding. In fact, the weakest performance in the film is Zellweger, and this seems more of a fault of the script than Zellweger. Even though most of the film focuses on her, she remains a cipher at the end of the picture, most likely because the central conceit of the film (Roxie's perception of events) gets in the way of her character development. She still does the best job she can with what she's given with an underwritten part (to be fair, the part is even less well written for the stage version).
Did "Chicago" deserve to beat "Gangs of New York" or "The Pianist" for Best Picture? I'm not sure. All I know is that the film is an incredible achievement given its source material and the natural disadvantages of converting musicals to film. Marshall set out to climb K-2, and he reached the top.
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