Rob Marshall not only directs the next title in the recommendations from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book, he also choreographed it as well, bringing the classic musical to the big screen with this Best Picture Oscar-winning version of Chicago, based on the musical play by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb.
Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones star in this adaptation with Richard Gere at their side, in this wonderfully realized film that combines fantastic music, gorgeous costumes, and great dance sequences into an extravaganza. Zelweger is Roxie Hart, a young chorus girl who dreams of making it big on the stage as a headliner, like her icon Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones), however, when both commit murders of passion, Kelly catching her sister and her fella, and Hart being jilted by Fred Casely (Dominic West), whom she believed could help further her career, but really only wanted one thing…. They find themselves serving time together or Murderess’ Row, in a prison run by Matron Mama Morton (Queen Latifah).
While there, Kelly gives her the cold shoulder until she recognizes in Hart the potential for a big new act. But Roxie is interested in her own case, and slipping the hangman’s noose, so she gets her pushover husband, Amos (John C. Reilly) to get her the top lawyer in the game, the charming, money-motivated, publicity chasing, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere). And as they get closer to trial, Roxie realizes she may need to do all kinds of things to get the publicity and attention she wants so desperately…
What follows is an amazing amount of numbers, many of them familiar even to those who may not have even heard of the musical, like All That Jazz, and Razzle Dazzle (always my favorite number). Filled with style, colour, and actors obviously enjoying themselves, it’s hard not to get swept up in the enjoyment of the film, and even sing along at times (Hey, I was at home watching this by myself, I can sing along if I want to).
There’s nothing in this film that I don’t like, the stylized reality of the musical numbers, the art deco style of the film itself, and the clothes associated with it. I wish the always awesome Colm Feore had more to do in this one, but, at least he’s in there!
And none of the songs, or numbers bring the picture to a halt, each of them are there for a reason, either progressing the story, or filling out character, and it’s always done so well. The Cell Block Tango is a perfect example, you learn the history of the women on Murderess Row, as each of them gives a backstory set to a tango, When You’re Good to Mama shows Morton’s true nature, and the heartbreaking Mr. Cellophane performed by Reilly seems to be on repeat in my head.
A highly enjoyable adaptation, one I’m glad is in my collection, and was a lot of fun to revisit for this list.