Las Vegas-style music and choreography showcase the seductiveness of bright lights and fame in 1920s Chicago. The spotlight is trained upon America’s obsession with celebrity, scandal, and high-profile killers. Waiting in the wings, anxious to take center stage, is American jurisprudence.
In this excellent allegory, slick lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) steps into a literal courtroom which segues into a three-ring circus. Truth is lost in razzle-dazzle, and a lawyer who knows the score can tap dance around it. Justice bows to the most entertaining.
“Chicago” spotlights female killers who use their infamy to propel them to fame. Enter Velma Kelley (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a showgirl who shoots her husband and sister; and Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), who shoots her lover.
Billy Flynn uses their high-profile cases to feather his own career nest, and is shown as a master manipulator. One scene underscores this fact when his client becomes a ventriloquist dummy, mouthing what he tells her; the media become marionettes, never making a move until Billy pulls the strings; and he plays the emotions of the public like a well-tuned violin.
Hurt and lost in all this pizzaz is the husband of Roxie Hart, played by John C. Reilly. Just a plain, ordinary automobile mechanic, he is easily used and confused, but in his simple, homespun way, he loves Roxie. Though his emotions take him on a roller coaster ride, he nonetheless stands by her. One of the most beautiful and touching scenes in the entire film is when he is rejected yet again, and the scene fades to a dressing room where he applies the paint of a clown. The scene moves to a darkened stage and audience. A soft spotlight outlines the clown in oversized clothes and shoes, standing with his back to the camera. He does a slow, sad, soft-shoe shuffle as he sings about how people “look right through him”, and “walk right by him.”
Catherine Zeta-Jones hits the screen full force with enough energy to light up Chicago, and chills you as the hardened showgirl-turned-killer. Her stepping-stones on the way out and up are anyone who gets in her way.
Chicago deserves every accolade and all the awards it has received.
It makes an impact in its allegorical treatment of issues such as America’s love affair with fame, and the manipulation of justice.