This week, our movie of choice was the comedy-crime-musical – and award-winning -Chicago. The story is set in Chicago, in the 1920s Jazz Age, and follows two primary murderesses (Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones) incarcerated in the Chicago Cook County jail system, along with their never-lost-a-case lawyer (Richard Gere), and a whole cast of back-up dancers a la murderesses. Queen Latifah gives a solid performance as the benevolent-for-a-price Matron of the prison, known to her wards as “Mama.”
As the merry murderesses sing and dance their way through their crimes, their imprisonments, and their trials, the very simple story line is their pursuit of the fame that they both crave and that they perceive will keep them from hanging for their crimes.
The story itself is nothing particularly memorable – the real genius of the film is its music, lyrics and choreography. One commentator noted that this film was so successful in its musical genius that it effectively – along with Moulin Rouge and 8 Mile – reintroduced the world to the musical genre of films, bringing musicals back into popularity and setting the stage for the success of subsequent musicals such as Les Miserable and La La Land. What it does musically, it does incredibly well, and that in and of itself makes the film worth watching, if only for the entertainment value in the song and dance.
While I wouldn’t say this film was particularly one that “made you think” – if I were to draw one take-away – it would be the allegory that much of the criminal justice system is just a song and a dance, the quality of which is largely determined by money. Gere, the best lawyer there is, supposedly only cares about “love” (parallel it to justice?) but is only available to those who have $5000 to spare. The one character that is supposedly innocent, is the one who is unable to afford good counsel, doesn’t have enough publicity to gain her favor in the eyes of the public/jury and, as a result, is ultimately sentenced to be the first female hanging in the history of Cook County. (Incidentally, she also doesn’t speak English and is a foreigner).
The parallel settings – of the dull and drab jail and courtroom, instantly recast into the glittering pizzazz of the stage – certainly are not shy in painting the legal scene in a particular light – from Lawyer Billy Stone (Gere) literally tap-dancing around the evidence, to Mama’s (Latifah) sultry promises of rewards and better treatment, for the right price, to the public and the press being depicted as marionettes in a narrative of Gere and Zellweger’s weaving.
Overall, this was an entertaining watch, and instrumental in reviving a genre – and I’ve definitely been humming the tunes all week – but I wouldn’t put in my top list of “watch agains.”