Directed by: Rob Marshall
Written by: Bill Condon
Starring: Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly
As much as journalism values telling the hard truths and shedding light in the dark corners of society, some segments relish in getting the hottest stories, which get the most attention from their readership. This craze will highlight the worst people our culture has to offer, and the savviest of them all know how to use it for their gain. Chicago tells the tale of this manipulation at its finest through its spectacular song and dance sequences.
After killing a man using her for sex in exchange for getting her stage time, Roxy Hart (Renée Zellweger) faces the possibility of getting hanged for her crime. Desperate for help, she manages to get the help of the crafty defense attorney, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) who knows how to play the media like a fiddle. This leads her to seizing the opportunity to set up the perfect launching pad to have her name on the lips of everyone as her trial approaches.
Best Picture winner, Chicago has received criticism since its victory based on the opinion of the film’s fear of being a musical. Detractors of the film believe having the song and dance sequences happening outside of the story and essentially in the mind of the characters takes away from the purpose of the musicals. As ridiculous as it may be to see everyone break into song and dance, it makes for the charm of this genre. While I cannot refute the sentiments in this criticism, I find myself not caring because of the pure excellence on display in those sequences.
Having never seen the musical, experiencing the film adaptation of Chicago hit me like an explosion of style. Flowing with energy and plenty of electricity, this film seeks to show the power of women and it succeeds by every metric. Each musical sequence carries such vibrancy and power that will leave you startled at the fusion of the fantastic music and choreography on display. Every song from “When You’re Good to Mama” to “Cell Block Tango” puts the women of this story at center stage and they do not squander the opportunity. The performers embody the power and particular selfishness of the characters they portray, as they attempt to manipulate every situation in a way to further their wishes. The dancing does not go for a more elegant approach, but rather embodies these quick moves, showing these women remain incredibly active in their lives and not waiting for some man to take care of them.
The setting of the feature takes us to Roaring 20s Chicago, where excess and exuberance reigned supreme and mob bosses controlled the streets. A certain danger exists in the film and the prison where Roxie finds herself has collected a bunch of women arraigned for murdering their partners in some way. “Cell Block Tango” goes through some of the scenarios. The screenplay works really well in displaying the quick and snappy style of this era where each character attempts to interrupt the other in the middle of the conversation. Gaining the upper hand becomes a goal for each interaction and it shows everyone wants to reach glory for themselves and use the media as a tool to achieve it.
“If it bleeds, it leads” often gets thrown around as a term in sensationalist media corners of the world, as they strive to get attention-grabbing headlines rather than the more important events happening around them. The most bizarre and wild circumstances become the most sought after stories, and Roxy learns that a little embellishment will go a long way for her case. The manipulation of the media becomes one of the more entertaining aspects of this film because Billy Flynn seems to be the master of it, but Roxy quickly learns how to utilize it for her gain. It truly speaks to the idea of the court of public opinion. Roxy’s case appears to be fairly ironclad against her where she murdered a man for betraying her and not from self-defense. However, if you can manage to spin a story in a way that interests the media, they can help raise whatever profile you seek and thus force the hand of the justice system if the public is hardened in support of the defendant. This commentary remains as relevant now as it did nearly 100 years ago.
The performances in Chicago all bring such power and fun to their roles. While the weakest link may be the lead, everyone else really brings their own flavor to the story. Most notably, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly brings forth someone trying to get off her charge much like Roxy but presents her own motives. While Richard Gere might not do best in the musical sequences, his performance in the courtroom scene brings out all of his flairs in a spectacular way. Not much more can be said about Queen Latifah in her performance of “When You’re Good to Mama” because she was simply captivating in this gray-area character.
While not appearing in a way musicals usually do, Chicago presents itself to be a wholly unique and fun experience. The production design for the musical sequences is top-notch and the performers on the stage bring all of the energy and fire one could want. The story tells a timeless message about the harsh gaze of the media and how fleeting time on the headlines can be. Truly a magnificent romp to enjoy with a soundtrack carrying songs that will fail to leave your head for a few days.