- Renée Zellweger as Roxie Hart
- Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly
- Richard Gere as Billy Flynn
- Queen Latifah as Matron Mama Morton
- John C. Reilly as Amos Hart
- Christine Baranski as Mary Sunshine
- Taye Diggs as The Bandleader
A flashy, well-mounted musical based on the stage show, Chicago smolders with dark sensuality, exuberant, sensational music numbers and tons of smoky atmosphere. This jazzy film is a feast for the eyes and ears and full of scandal, sex and corruption to entertain all.
1920’s Chicago: meek housewife Roxie Hart desperately wants to be a vaudeville star. Although married, she is having an affair with a sleazeball who has been promising her a path to stardom, but has been stringing her along. When she finds this out, she flies into a passionate rage and shoots him dead. At first, a panicked Roxie tries to get her lovingly devoted husband Amos to confess to the crime, but the police see through the story as Amos becomes aware that his wife was having an affair behind his back. Subsequently arrested for her crime of passion, she is sent to the Cook County Jail to await trial. While there, she meets her idol Velma Kelly, an established star who has been imprisoned for shooting dead her husband and her sister/stage partner after discovering their affair. Velma is the queen bee of the spotlight and has no intention of giving it up. Meanwhile, Roxie is prompted by the corrupt but caring Matron Mama Morton to enlist smooth talking lawyer Billy Flynn to represent her in trial. Roxie accepts and soon becomes something of a sensation under the ruthless and manipulative tutelage of Flynn, and proves herself as equally cold-hearted and deceptive in her rise to the top. The media pounces on the story and it seems that murder and ensuing trials are just as much a form of entertainment as vaudeville. This sudden turning of the tables doesn’t sit well with Velma, who wants her stardom back. And with there only being room for one person at the top in the cut throat show business industry, it’s a fight for the spotlight indeed as music, celebrity and murder meet in glamorous fashion.
Rob Marshall invests Chicago with a dark heart and glamorous allure of stardom, complete with a stunning rendering of the scandalous 20’s and the decadent calling of the time. A whole lot of panache is thrown into Chicago that adds to the enjoyment, especially in the musical numbers. Crafted from Roxie’s point of view and filtered through a dreamlike gaze, these are stunning achievements that hark back to the classic musicals from Hollywood’s Golden Era. The opening number ‘All that Jazz’ is sexy and vibrant as sung by the brash diva Velma. ‘Cell Block Tango’, in which female inmates narrate their crimes while dancing up a darkly seductive storm is a feverish delight. ‘Mister Cellophane’ sung by Roxie’s good-hearted but used husband Amos, dressed as a melancholy clown and reflecting on how he is looked over by everyone because he is unimportant. And my personal favourite ‘When You’re Good to Mama’ where Mama Morton explains the process by which she works known as reciprocity, all while performing a burlesque number with an ostrich feather. Everything comes together in the musical numbers and they really help expand the story and move it on. I couldn’t possibly talk about every musical number without going into extreme detail, so I’ll just say that they are knockouts. I was especially impressed with the portrayal of stardom in this film. A corrupt, dark but very entertaining business that can make you a star and then forget about you the next. There’s something amusingly cynical about this portrayal but also truth to it. And while some musicals rely too much on the numbers to carry them, Chicago has a witty script of catty one-liners and waspish remarks to boast.
In the lead role of fame-seeking Roxie, Renée Zellweger is very convincing, showing off excellent vocal skills and dance moves. She encapsulates Roxie’s naive attitude in the beginning and her rise to stardom which makes her a manipulative woman who cradles every ounce of that spotlight. Considering Zellweger had no prior training in either dance or singing, you really couldn’t tell from watching her fine work here. Yet while Zellweger is excellent in the lead, it’s Catherine Zeta-Jones who steals the show in an Oscar-winning performance. Sexy, bitchy and diva like, she is a marvel to watch whenever she is on the screen. And her sensational dancing skills and beautiful singing voice complete this impressive turn that deservedly won her many awards. Richard Gere is a natural fit for the role of the greasy, silver-tongued lawyer who turns his clients into stars. Queen Latifah is funny, sneaky and fabulous as the matron who will help you out if you provide money. John C. Reilly makes the most of his role of Amos, the neglected husband who is walked over by everyone. Reilly just has this knack for really wringing out deep emotion in this part as we witness how he is used by everyone around him simply because he is a decent person in a time of lies and schemes. Christine Baranski is impressive as the sensational journalist jumping on the scandal, while a mysterious cameo from Taye Diggs as a bandleader who introduces the musical numbers completes the impressive acting on show.
Flamboyant and exuberant, Chicago is a triumph of the musical genre that entertains throughout.