I’m not gonna be the Debbie Downer who talks about how this movie is a satire of the demonization of women who vengefully act against the abuses they face from their partners. Or that the musical and its adaptations came out within different contexts, the 1970’s urban prurience, the 1990’s circus trials and the cynical escapism and ‘reality’ crazed 2000’s reflect the prurient, circus-y crazy escapism of 1920’s Chicago. This movie’s too fun and campy for that.
Not like I can cite these opinions I’m talking about, but Chicago today is treated as a shallow visual exercise, that other films deserved the Best Picture trophy better, and that it’s dated. How terrible of a fate for a film to be called dated. It’s only eight and a half year’s old! I don’t have the problem with the separate worlds of gritty jail and colourful cabaret fantasy, the transitions between the two are seamless. Maybe because both worlds are as colourful, unlike the drastic cinematography changes between the fantasy and ‘real’ segments in director Rob Marshall’s later work, Nine. My problem on that department is that the takes are too short and quick, sometimes the audience can’t see the actors perform their song and dance, especially with Richard Gere‘s Billy Flynn. Sometimes it shakes too much, like when Kitty Baxter (Lucy Liu) is arrested, stealing Roxie’s thunder, or the last number.
There’s been also been many discussions about the casting. Sometimes I think about what Goldie Hawn, Liza Minelli and Frank Sinatra would have done under Bob Fosse. I’m also pretty sure that some of you are slightly bitter that Charlize Theron, Toni Collette, Hugh Jackman and Kathy Bates weren’t in the movie version we have now. Yes, I’ll admit that Gere is the weakest link of the cast. Sometimes he doesn’t know what to do with his arms. He gets a showy role but like every capable actor given a boisterous character, he doesn’t always turn it up to 11. it’s Although his renditions of his songs border on sprechgesang, his voice is still nice to listen to.
And he may be Mr. Cellophane all right, but John C. Reilly can outsing Gere any day.
I’m probably one of the people who will defend Renee Zellweger‘s casting and performance as Roxie. Yes, her face is a bit twitchy, but her dancing not that’s bad. Although I do have to see a stage adaptation for comparison in the triple threat department. She has a wiry, sinewy body, not as voluptuous as her co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones, like she’s lived a life of poverty. Her voice is also a little hoarse, like a female version of a schmoe. My favourite song from the film is starting to change to ‘I Can’t do it Alone,’ or ‘We Both Reached For The Gun.’ Nonetheless, Roxie’s songs always catch me, like ‘Funny Honey’ and ‘Roxie,’ because there’s anger and delusion to them. The latter number, when we see her body from tilting close-ups to wide shots of her body into the darkness of her fantasy, or when she looks to the right and finds a mirror, and more mirrors. Those are my favourite images of this film.
Zeta-Jones’ Velma Kelly needs the least defense from me, because her Oscar-winning turn’s pretty much well received even now. Some regard it as the best Supporting Actress win the past decade. Zellweger’s hoarseness matches Zeta-Jones’ raspiness, reflecting the anger and toughness that comes with her situation then as a dancer who had to make her way to the top and her desperation in jail. Egyptian dancers and her theatre background would be proud.
The Coen Brothers offer in Intolerable Cruelty characters who like to deceive except in the scenes when they’re introduced. We first see Miles Massey (George Clooney) talking on the phone to get messages from his assistant, the cutthroat lawyer that he is. There’s another scene shortly after when he talks to his colleague about the intricacies of the legal system and the real functions of marriage, a conversation they should have had years before but exists in the film for purposes of another introduction. Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta Jones) is sad but has great resolve while watching surveillance video of her husband Rex cheating on her, and we know that she’ll survive and probably has ulterior motives. Both eventually meet – Miles becomes the lawyer representing Rex – and fall in love and try to, as private dick Gus Fetch (Cedric the Entertainer) says, nail each other’s ass.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins find ways to play around with colours and images in a supposedly light comedy like this. The blues – the light while Miles is getting his teeth whitened, Gus’s aquarium, the swimming pools, Vegas at dusk – standing out in within the browns and reds of the res t of the film. The white lights, both the ceilings of the court scene and the lamps used both in Miles and Marilyn’s first date and at Miles’ boss’ office, are echoed in more prestigious films.
This is probably the second film of Zeta-Jones’s that features a courtroom when a woman feigns innocence to a scandal devouring public. This time around, it’s Jones’s Marilyn that does the pretending, in pink. I didn’t know Bill Blass designed in pink.
The doesn’t prepare its audience to its own style of humour, but there are some scenes that work because of its surreal comic style, the writing for the film is both tight, sprawling and wordy at the same time. One is the scene when Miles tells his client a defense story that helps her even if it’s absurdly untrue. There’s also Marilyn’s second marriage to a Dallas oil heir named Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton), officiated by a priest marching down the aisle playing Simon and Garfunkel in his acoustic guitar. The third scene is Marilyn’s court scene with its many movements. Rex being in contempt, Miles and Marilyn throwing Shakespeare at each other to try and fail to admit the other’s guilt, the scandalous Baron von Espy testimony.
Miles is the best role I’ve seen Clooney do. He strikes that note to evince a charming but slimy regular person. The Coen Brothers always allows him to be kooky, culminating in a scene near the end that’s hilarious in an old school sense. Jones allows herself to go through the inconsistencies of female characters but she’s very lively here. Her character’s consummation with Miles happens late – less than an hour into the 95 minute film – but she’s the stronger end of the romance department. In the stage of her character being a ‘sitting duck, ‘ she shows great passion and vulnerability
- Will Self considers the Coen brothers (guardian.co.uk)
It’s interesting to see Helena Ayala (Catherine Zeta Jones) go from bourgeois California wife to tough negotiator facing drug dealers.The best part about that scene was when Obregon (Benjamin Bratt) tells her they don’t have a deal and she looks defenseless, apologizing for wasting his time. Obergon, seeing her in this state, reconsiders, giving Helena the room for her demands and to make a quip about Obregon’s coke. Watching the tables turned by a woman whose life changed because of a secret is one of the great nuances to this complex film. Although at the risk of sounding like a feminazi or anything, if it was Helena’s husband who found out that she peddled drugs, he would leave her without hesitation.
The roles do get reversed in the same movie in Robert Wakefield’s story (Michael Douglas). Through movie magic, his daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen) swiftly falls from honour student to crack addict, because for some reason rich people drugs aren’t good enough for her. She’s the victim and although this submissive slant is why Robert is helping her, the male is still staying through the female’s troubles. He is her father after all. As his duty, he helps her to one rehab centre after another, even if she runs away. Again, I wonder how Robert deals with a son who gets hooked because of his girlfriend. That would be like the forties, and that sounds interesting enough for a movie for me.
Aside from the US good, Mexico bad, and the blinding monochromatic cinematography, the film’s portrayal of the unique personal effect of drugs is good enough to revisit. This is like what would happen if Kieslowski and Scorsese collaborated on a movie. I kept whining that this movie needs to air on TV more, and here it is, and I hope I run into it again a few years from now if I can find something new. And I kinda wanna see the miniseries, both of them.
We will also find similar narratives in Soderbergh’s new film “Contagion,” and I wonder how Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow’s relationship gets written. When I found out that Gwyneth Paltrow will play one of the first persons infected with a strange disease, I thought shit, Fishsticks got the meaty role. I wonder what that says about me.