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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Evita

Starring: Madonna, Antonio Banderas
Director: Alan Parker
Rated: PG
RunTime: 134 Minutes
Release Date: December 1996
Genres: Drama, Music

*Also starring: Jonathan Pryce, Jimmy Nail

Review by Brian Koller
3 stars out of 4

"Evita" is the ambitious film version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical, based on the life of Eva Peron, First Lady of Argentina. "Evita" is an Opera, a sardonic character study, a history lesson, a tear jerker, and a Madonna vehicle, all at once. And it is a little better than the decidedly mixed reviews that it has received.

Eva's life is shown from its humble beginnings as a poor, illegitimate peasant girl living in the countryside. She latches onto travelling musician Agustin Magaldi (Jimmy Nail), who takes her to Buenos Aires, and promptly dumps her to return to his wife. Eva has better luck with a series of lovers, each of whom plays a role towards making her a radio and film celebrity, and each is discarded as his usefulness to her is eclipsed.

Eva finally settles for Juan Peron, a colonel close to power. As the wife of a dictator, she is able to pursue her social agenda: a transfer of wealth from the snob elite to the "shirtless" masses whose worship she craves. But as her political power and fame increase, her health begins to fail...

With "Evita", Madonna has finally found a female lead role that suits her talents. She can only hope that future Rice/Weber projects will involve Princess Diana and Hillary Clinton. Madonna does not have a great voice, but she has a screen presence and is able to put a lot of emotion into her vocals.

Perhaps the real star of "Evita", however, is Antonio Banderas. He shows up in most of the scenes, alternately commiserating with and condemning the actions of Eva. Part narrator and part audience, his character is curious but necessary to explain the plot to Americans oblivious to Argentine history.

As a history lesson, "Evita" seems credible. Eva and Juan are neither glorified nor villified. The real power seems to be held by the right-wing military, who will tolerate the Eva Peron show only as long as it serves their purposes of political stability. I suppose someone knowledgeable with Eva Peron could pick the film apart, but a quick fact check on the web seemed to verify the film's integrity. One minor discrepancy: in the film, Eva apparently has leukemia, while the real-life Eva had uterine cancer.

Musicals haven't been a major force in cinema since the 1960s, and are now mostly relegated to children's fare: animated films and Muppet movies. An ambitious, big budget musical is risky for a studio, and it is good to see that the genre has not been forgotten. Perhaps "Evita" becomes overly funereal in the final third of the film, but it is interesting and has surprising content for a Lloyd Webber/Rice musical.

Copyright 1996 Brian Koller

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