Living just an hour from Chicago, I’ve often wished to know the Windy City in it’s hayday. In the roaring twenties, Chicago was the place to be, there were gangsters hiding out in speakeasies, jazz being played everywhere, the theater was booming, crime and corruption was all part of the show. Chicago brings all this out and mixes its engaging stage roots into the story effortlessly.
Roxie (Renee Zellweger) is a little blonde beauty itching for stardom, but all she’s got is a boring auto-mechanic husband and a little apartment in Chicago. She’s been messing around with a guy who says he can make her a star, but when he gets what he wants and comes clean, Roxie is so enraged she shoots him. In the slammer, she hears about the one lawyer who has never let a lady hang, Billy Flint (Richard Gere). Soon, after a few hurdles, he turns Roxie into a sob story all of Chicago is raving about, but there are other women in need of Billy and the spotlight.
Never before have I enjoyed a performance by Zelwegger so much. Her scrunched up face always rubbed me the wrong way, but in Chicago, it’s hardly noticed. In fact, her occasional stink-eye is quite character building. She really does make a wonderful unlikely jailbird as well as a ventriloquists dummy in a very surreal musical number.
Richard Gere is one of my grandma’s favorite actors, and he’s fantastic as Billy Flint, “the silver tongued prince of the courtroom.” Gere creates Flint to be wonderfully charismatic to his clients, a puppet-master of the press and a ringleader in the courtroom with the uncanny ability to tap-dance his way around a tricky witness. Don’t worry, those traits are illustrated with glitz and style bigger than any stage could contain. “Would you please tell the audience… err… the jury what happened?”
Chicago was up for a slew of awards: Adapted Writing, Cinematography, Director, Best Song and four for acting just to name a few. By the end of the night, it won six of the thirteen nominations, including Best Picture and Supporting Actress for Catherine Zeta-Jones portraying Velma Kelly, the murderess who used to own the Chicago stage. Costumes, Art Direction, Editing and Sound were also won by Chicago, easily.
Ah yes, the style of this film is phenomenal. It all starts with a little slide trombone and rhythm, and it’s never lost until the credits are over. The way the film slips in and out of a concrete setting and conscious story to glitzy song and dance on different forms of a stage is a sight to be seen. It’s never chunky or forced, the transitions are fluid and natural to the viewer’s eye and mind. I was wowed by the way settings were intermingled and honestly found myself snapping along with half the songs, and I’m not even a big musical fan.
Please do yourself a favor and see Chicago. This isn’t your Mary Poppins type of musical, everything is jazz, glitz, sex, murder and corruption. Like a juicy steak with an extra spicy kick.
“This is Chicago, kid. You can’t beat fresh blood on the walls.”
***Yup, I’ve gotta agree with the Academy on this one, 2002 was all about Chicago.***