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Movie Reviews




Released:January 17th 2003 (UK)

Director:Rob Marshall

Stars: Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones

Certificate:12a (UK)

Reviewer: Philippe Ostiguy

Best Picture, overrated, dazzling, decadent, inspired, shallow, sexy, pretentious; if you can name it,Chicago’s been called it. Though the film is, it’s true, widely adored, it has now and had then a handful of keen detractors who find easy fun in tearing it down.
And that’s become a big ol’ chunk of its charm, hasn’t it? Praise or slander it, not a hair on its glossy, now-iconic poster seems to budge; neither its popularity nor its six Oscars seem to show a crack. No publicity is bad publicity, right?

Well hey, that’s just the joke it was making! For those who don’t know, it is a story of murderesses evolving in a Chicago of men, booze and jazz who gain overnight celebrity by way of spilt blood and trials. Women, amid herds of journalists’ good words and bad words, who become stars by killing their devious, dirty men. That the film’s fate supports its satire so is the added pinch of spice, the extra Zeta-Jones “I told you so” wink – complete with knee socks, spotlights and all that jazz – that makes it even more amusing now than it was in 2002, and wiser too. Of course I am speaking of Chicago in the absolute, a film that begins and ends with Rob Marshall rather than a comparison to its source Broadway play or an element of the musical genre – two areas about which I don’t claim to know much.
I do know brassy fun, though, and in the absolute Chicago excells at it. Marshall gives it an atmosphere electric and velvety, always over-the-top, and bolds the plot’s sparkling cynicism and smirking humour. Upon release, the big story was Catherine Zeta-Jones’ Academy Award-winning turn as Velma Kelly: it’s a showy role, small enough to forgive opacity and allow constant scene-stealing. She shines bright, of course, but part of the fun was unmistakably found in watching a beloved actress reach higher than ever before. The real story here is the much less liked Zellweger, whose portrayal of Roxie Hart, a hopeful cabaret dancer, is alas less remembered. It’s an odd character, selfish and cruel but fragile and naïve, and Zellweger does all the necessary twirls to make us, warily, root for her. Her facial expressions’ timing is fantastic, always so satisfyingly on cue, as strange of a compliment as that may be. The two ladies are in fact so good that they always seem to be outrunning their characters, making puppets out of them – an appealing nuance in such a big, swanky satire.

It may seem obvious I watched Chicago more as a story than a musical. This said, however, its numbers are numerous and impressive; Zeta-Jones, Latifah and Gere bring all the cockiness their roles require to the stage; Reilly fills his with the patheticness of the cuckold husband; Zellweger, maybe luckily for her, with the reserve and clear-voiced honesty of an amateur.

Perhaps the best thing about Chicago is how its spectacle can be watched with starry eyes and its comedy with sly, knowing corner smiles; how it pleases both fantasy and depravity. With Marshall at its helm, the point is hard to miss, but at least it gets across.

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