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Chicago, the 2002 Academy Award winner as best film of the year, explodes onto the theater screen in a larger-than-life musical spectacular whose action never stops. Somewhere in all the razzle-dazzle is a story line about two women who get away with murder and the man that helped them do it. The cultural mythology of Chicago also expresses the film’s themes: jazz and liquor matter; enough money can buy anything; all the public wants is entertainment; the ends justify the means; and nice guys finish last. This highly stylized film works its magic around characters who lack nobility and self-respect; who don’t care who they hurt, or who they lie to; and who will do anything to get to the top with their names in lights.
The film’s magic is that with such lowlifes as characters, the film appeals to the audience who is nevertheless hooked by the spectacle that surrounds them. The stereotyped characters remain true to form throughout the film: Roxie as a dizzy dame, Velma as a manipulative vamp, Billy Flynn as a flimflam lawyer, and Amos as the poor dope who gets duped. With this cast of characters, the storyline can only be superficial while it provides the appropriate foundation for the music and dance spectacular that the film really is.
Primary to the story’s set-up of two female stage performers who get away with murder is the symbol of the gun, introduced within the first minute of the film. Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta Jones) hides a gun in her drawer just before going on stage. Rosie Hart’s (Renee Zellweger) introductory scene shows her wistfully watching Velma dance a dynamic performance on stage. At this time, the film introduces its primary storytelling technique: mixing fantasy with reality. Torre writes, “Eventually, director Rob Marshall solved the problem by transforming the musical numbers into imaginary projections in the mind of the story’s protagonist, Roxie Hart. So, the film would exist on two planes.” Roxie imagines herself on stage and her imagination becomes reality on camera. Thus, throughout the film, there are two realities: one in the real world, and one in the world of fantasy. Both seem equally important to the development of the film’s themes and atmosphere.