After being stuck in years of development, “Chicago” finally arrives on the big screen and the result is spectacular. The modern stage version of Chicago which most audiences are familiar with is famous for its lack of sets or props, and yet this is one of the most lustrous looking visual feasts of the year with every number utilising clever tricks with mirrors, absolutely stunning lighting rigs and rich costume detail to give the performances that much more weight.
Considering this is Director Rob Marshall’s first foray onto the big screen, it comes as quite a shock as short of a somewhat muddily edited opening 10 minutes or so – the rest of the production is shot with a strong level of confidence and skill that most filmmakers just can’t do.
The comparisons with “Moulin Rouge” are inevitable and whilst Luhrmann’s musical epic was a flashier and more energetic piece of cinema, it also suffered from choppy editing and weak script which caused the second half to be a bit of a struggle as Baz’s message that “love is the greatest thing and conquers all” was basically screamed at us until our ears bled.
It was a collection of great stolen pop songs done in an elaborate whimsical style and organised around a rather flimsy premise stretched a good 20-30 minutes beyond comfort level – yet it worked quite well.
“Chicago” on the other hand is sourced from a far smarter pedigree – Baz may be a great filmmaker, but Bob Fosse was pretty much the master of his domain. The message of “Chicago” is not so grand but much more contemporary and works its material far better.
Kudos should go to Bill Condon’s script which brilliantly incorporates fantasy visions and reality (a real life hanging mixed with a dream circus performance dive is the film’s most memorable scene) whilst making subtle changes to the storyline to give everything a more interesting and well-paced flow.
Performances are perfectly solid right across the board with Renee Zellweger delivering absolutely astonishing vocal numbers whilst handling the more dramatic yet black humoured material with the exact sense of fun and weight it needs. Zeta-Jones was known for her stage production roles long before she became a movie actress and so its not surprising she just lights up all her scenes.
Richard Gere the absolute out of nowhere shock though as although he can sing (albeit not with much range) he makes very good with all his numbers, whilst Queen Latifah just rocks as the tough but loveable warden Mama.
Songs wise well everyone has different opinions in regards to different songs. As much as I love “All That Jazz” as a song, it suffers from firing so early out of the gate here despite the lavish visual look. “Cell Block Tango”, “When You’re Good to Mama”, “Roxie” and “Razzle Dazzle” all utilise amazing set pieces and tricks to help these already solid songs reach stratospheric levels.
“Mister Cellophane” is a sweet song and Reilly is a surprisingly good singer though aside from a light trick towards the end its a bit of a mood downer. On the flip side “We Both Reached for the Gun” is a brilliantly choreographed number utilising a string puppet trick, and the finale “Nowadays” perfectly caps off the movie. Utterly superb filmmaking done with love, care and attention to detail whilst still providing a deftly enjoyable narrative with which to get swept up in. One of the year’s absolute best.