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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 MrBrown
4 stars out of 4

Who knew? After torturing moviegoers for the past decade with awful performances in sometimes even worse movies, Madonna actually proves to be a capable screen actress in what a number of audience members at the media screening declared "the best film of the year." While I don't think quite as highly of it, Alan Parker's long-awaited film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's celebrated stage musical/rock opera Evita is nonetheless a remarkable cinematic achievement--a brisk, involving, and highly entertaining spectacle that could breathe new life into the dead genre of the movie musical.

Evita follows the meteoric rise and fall of Eva Duarte Peron (Madonna), a girl from the Argentina countryside who dreams of fame and fortune in the big city. A liaison with tango singer Augustin Magaldi (Jimmy Nail) is her ticket to "B.A.--Buenos Aires--Big Apple," where she climbs up the social ladder and carves out a career as a model and actress by winning and then discarding useful lovers. Her most useful conquest turns out to be Juan Peron (Jonathan Pryce), who marries Eva and is soon elected president. As First Lady of Argentina, Eva wins the love of the nation and all the riches she ever dreamed of, but her flame is ultimately blown out in 1952, when, at the age of 33, she succumbs to uterine cancer.

Evita the show has a reputation for portraying one of the most beloved figures in Argentinean history as a scheming viper hungry for fame and fortune. While the film does not shy away from this angle, it is just one side of her persona; Eva as a whole is painted as a very complex figure. Her accomplishments for her country (grant women the right to vote, the openings of new hospitals, her giving money to the poor, etc.) are duly noted, and she does have a vulnerable side. Her obsessive drive to be famous is really more of a need for acceptance, something she never received as a child. We first see Eva as a girl all of 7 years old, forbidden to attend her father's funeral because she was the product of an extramarital affair. That scene is revisited more than once during the course of the film, and it serves as a reminder as how the dream began and how the woman came to be. Eva's sensitive side does shine through in other moments, especially in the lovely lament "Another Suitcase in Another Hall," which she sings after Magaldi turns her back on her soon after arriving in Buenos Aires (in the stage production, the tune is sung by another character); and most notably near the end, where you can sense her emptiness and the feeling that the dream had grown into something more than she could bear.

The effectiveness of those dramatic moments is due in no small part to Madonna's startling performance. Granted, she is in her element in this film, taking on a role that is almost entirely sung, but there is more to her work than her stronger-than-ever voice. In all her other films, she is so overwrought and in-your-face that she might as well have worn a sign that read "Look at me! I'm Madonna, and I'm ACTING!" Here, she is surprisingly restrained, and as a result her acting feels natural. It is that naturalness that enables her to make an emotional connection with the audience, something she has never been able to accomplish before. Usually a Madonna death scene in a movie is met with laughter (or walkouts); this time around there was silence, save for the sniffling that could be heard throughout the auditorium. After this film, she should retire from film acting; I don't see her ever topping her astonishing work here.

Madonna would likely not have been able to pull off her career-best work without the stellar talent around and behind her. The liveliest performance comes from Antonio Banderas, who plays the floating narrator Che. His perpetually unamused and cynical presence and viciously snarled vocals give the film a welcome edge and prevent it from taking itself too seriously. Tony Award winner Pryce adds some maturity and polish to the whole affair as only a theater vet can. But most of the kudos go to director-producer-co-scripter (with Oliver Stone) Parker, who keeps the action moving briskly while allowing time for quieter moments. The film is quite the visual spectacle; the numerous scenes of chaos are well-staged; the flashy editing serves the story well; and the scenes set at the balcony of the Casa Rosada, where the Perons address the hordes of extras standing below, are real stunners. To quote Che, "The best show in town was the crowd outside the Casa Rosada crying 'Eva Peron!'" Parker's one misstep is his tendency to crank up Webber's score to the max, which too often obscures Che's expository lyrics, which, in turn, are already somewhat obscured by Banderas's accent.

The movie musical is dead, and I doubt Evita will be its resurrection; I'm not so certain that contemporary moviegoers are ready for films where characters periodically break into song, let alone sing throughout the entire film. But if any film is to revive the movie musical, it will be Evita, for its haunting melodies, strong performances, and overall passion has the potential to reach even the most skeptical mainstream moviegoer.

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