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Chicago (2002)

PG-13 · 113 minutes

Directed by Rob Marshall
Written by Maurine Dallas Watkins, Bob Fosse, Fred Ebb, Bill Condon

 · Taye Diggs
 · Clive Saunders
 · Catherine Zeta-Jones
 · Renée Zellweger
 · Dominic West

Review by Thom Stricklin

Musicals are making a comeback. Film experts are saying that, by the end of this decade, musicals will be as popular as they were in the late 1930s. (That means enormously popular, in case you were wondering.) That's gonna be trouble for me, because I'm not sure how to review a musical. I haven't seen many musicals. To be honest, I don't even really like musicals.

But if they are the future, then Chicago is a good first step. I enjoyed this film a great deal. Even if the film didn't showcase a barely-dressed Catherine Zeta-Jones, which it does, I would've enjoyed this film.




The chief reason I've never cared for musicals is, well... the music. I just don't understand and can rarely suspend belief as to why a sailor or schoolteacher or cowboy would just burst into song out of nowhere. It's never made much sense. Well, Chicago made sense of it. Not only do the two main characters' lives revolve around music "and all that jazz", but the filmmakers fade into the musical numbers in a sort of "daydream" fashion, through Renée's consciousness. Before long, we become accustomed to thinking of two different forms of existences: one set in real world settings and another set on a musical stage. In fact, the way in which these realities play against each other greatly contributes to the cleverness of the film.

And the film was clever, indeed. From the opening credits to the final scene, parallels are made between the entertainment biz and the criminal justice system. From these parallels, they reveal to us both that the workings of law are "like a three-ring circus", and more subtly, that thespianism and criminality seem... curiously linked. So that explains the deal with celebs like Robert Downey, Jr. and Winona Ryder!




It's hard to distinguish the art from the entertainment in Chicago. In order for me to be entertained, the film had to be handled pretty intelligently in every aspect, which it was.

I suppose what made this film fun beyond solid filmmaking was the magic of the cast. Both Zelweger and Zeta-Jones were delightfully spunky in their parts, and Richard Gere--who I normally can't tolerate--was fully into the part and impressive. Even the smaller roles, such as Queen Latifah's "Mama" Morton and John C. Reilly's Amos, were so solidly performed as to keep cheeks turned up at times when an inferior supporting cast would begin to bore the audience.



Chicago is a must-see on the big screen. I'm sure the film will be enjoyable on DVD as well, but in a theatre, there are times when it feels like the screen disappears and you're actually sitting in a Broadway play. Unless you're in New York a lot with money to spend (which I know I'm not), that's something you don't want to miss.

472 Words · Published: 10 February 2003

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