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Blu-ray Review: 'Chicago: Diamond Edition'

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The Film:

Based on the multiple Tony award-nominated stage hit, “Chicago” tells the tale of two murderesses: Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who has been accused of murdering her husband and sister), and Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), who we witness murdering her lover, Fred Casely (Dominic West), at the beginning of the film. At first, Roxie tries to get her husband, Amos (John C. Reilly), to take the blame, claiming that Fred was a burglar murdered in self-defense, but that story comes flying apart once Amos recognizes the name and puts the story of his cheating wife together.

Roxie soon finds herself in prison with Velma Kelly, who is something of a celebrity, under the watchful eye of Mama Morton (Queen Latifah). It comes to Roxie’s attention that Velma has hired the best attorney around, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), who is said to have never lost a case for a female client yet. With Amos’ help, she is able to get enough money to convince Flynn to take the case. Flynn immediately goes to work, getting her name in all the papers, helping to elicit sympathy from the public by making her out to be the victim, and coaching her for when she takes the stand at her own trial. It’s a lot of song and dance (in more ways than one), but with a bamboozler this good, it just might work.

It would be hard to top off the great “Chicago” with any more praise than has already been showered on it from critics and industry professionals alike over the last 11 years. On Oscar night back in 2003, it walked away with six Oscars, including the top prize of Best Picture, becoming the first musical to do so since “Oliver!” over three decades earlier. Why had the Academy waited so long to honor another musical with Best Picture? Perhaps they felt that there hadn’t been one worth honoring in all those years (though “Moulin Rouge!” would have been a great choice for Best Picture the previous year). Whatever the reason, “Chicago” showed that they were still willing to pile Oscars onto musicals that really struck a chord with them.

Superficially, “Chicago” may seem like a deceptively simple musical of two women trying to get out of jail with the help of a trick-filled lawyer, mixed with a few musical numbers and dance routines, but when you look at it closer, you realize that it’s a story told from multiple characters’ POVs, and that those song and dance numbers represent their innermost thoughts and desires. When you look at it that way, it’s a very intimate examination of these characters going through a set of difficult circumstances. Of course, it helps that the story is riveting and the musical numbers are fantastic and catchy. In fact, I saw this back in 2002 when it first came out (and several times since), and there will still be random times when the songs pop into my head out of nowhere, but given their great quality, they’re always welcome.

No examination of the film would be complete without talking about the outstanding ensemble that was brought together to bring this film to life. Zellweger plays Roxie as a bit ditzy, but underneath, she shows us another layer proving that she’s just as sly as Velma, who’s played with lots of pizazz by Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones. However, both pale in comparison to the man with all the cards up his sleeve, Billy Flynn, played by Richard Gere as a man who has (or at least tries to have) complete control over everything regarding his clients’ cases. Even looking at the smaller parts, we find fantastic performances from John C. Reilly, who takes hold of the audience’s sympathy as Amos gets dragged through the circus created by Roxie and Flynn, and Queen Latifah, whose character becomes lovable for her parental presence at the prison.

Aside from all of this, you also have several other brilliant pieces coming together to make this the amazing musical that it is, including incredible direction from Rob Marshall, a great screenplay from Bill Condon, a jaw-dropping production design, gorgeous costumes, stunning cinematography, and top-notch editing. I’ve seen a lot of great musical films in my time, before and after (“Moulin Rouge!,” “Sweeney Todd,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” etc.), but ever since I saw “Chicago” back in 2002, I knew right then that it would be a worthy addition to the category. It’s not that often that we get great musicals anymore, so when they come around, they should be embraced just like this one was, and very deservingly so. It’s unforgettable and is sure to leave you humming at least half a dozen different tunes by its end, which, in my experience, is never a bad thing when it comes to a musical as good as this.

Video/Audio:

“Chicago” is reenergized on Blu-ray in a 1.85:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of phenomenal quality. Having only seen the film previously on VHS and DVD, I can’t tell you of how it stacks up to the first Blu-ray release, but I can tell you that this picture looks flawless, with every frame looking sharp and crystal clear. The 7.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack presents the audio in better quality than I’ve ever heard it before, with every note of every song sounding perfect. Overall, it’s doubtful that better quality could be achieved.

Special Features:

Blu-ray:

Chicago in the Spotlight – A Retrospective with Cast and Crew: A thoroughly in-depth documentary that explores the making of the film from the inception of the idea through the casting, rehearsals, filming, and even its big night at the Oscars. It runs nearly two and a half hours and features interviews with all the major cast and crew, including Rob Marshall, Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly, and Queen Latifah. This is a must-watch for fans of the film.

Feature Commentary with Director Rob Marshall and Screenwriter Bill Condon: An outstanding commentary track that features the director and screenwriter discussing how the film came together and the importance of structuring it just right. Unlike a lot of others who participate in similar tracks, these two actually go through a lot of interesting info, making this very much worth listening to.

Extended Musical Sequences: While many of these are the song and dance numbers from the film, it also contains a lot of rehearsal footage showing us the sequences in their rough forms. Definitely worth taking a look at.

DVD:

From Stage to Screen: The History of Chicago: A retrospective about the original musical that runs about 30 minutes. It features a lot of detailed info given to us by its original creators, the filmmakers, and even some from the stars of the first production in 1975. Another featurette that’s definitely worth the time to watch.

Deleted Scene: “Class”: A deleted musical number that runs about three minutes. It’s rather easy to see why this was left on the cutting room floor. It’s not a particularly good song, nor does it really fit into the film. However, it’s still interesting to see a piece that didn’t quite make it.

Conclusion:

With a good three hours of extensive, in-depth featurettes and a great commentary track on top of the already outstanding film presented in top-notch quality, this becomes one of the easiest releases to recommend ever. “Chicago” is one of those rare musicals where every single part comes together flawlessly to form something unforgettable. From the incredible performances to the outstanding songs to all of the technical marvels behind and in front of the camera, there isn’t a single weak link to be found. If you’ve never seen the film before, or are just revisiting it, this is one release that is a must-own.

Score: 5/5

Now available on Blu-ray/DVD combo.

Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: All is Lost, Austenland, How I Live Now, Night of the Demons, Witchboard, Dallas Buyers Club, The Fifth Estate, Captain Phillips, You're Next, A Single Shot, Insidious: Chapter 2, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Now playing in theaters: Labor Day, The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Also be sure to check out my lists of the Best and Worst Films of 2013.

Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.

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