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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

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Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

"She had her moments," sings Che (Antonio Banderas) about legendary figure Eva Peron (Madonna). "She had some style." This perfectly describes Madonna's performance as EVITA. Madonna has "some" style in the role, but not much.

Perhaps the problem is that Madonna's performance is all style. She mugs for the camera, but her acting is rarely convincing and her songs are one disappointment after another. To be fair, the score by Andrew Lloyd Webber has only one decent song. He is no Rodgers and Hammerstein replacement. For the record, I happen to love musicals. I have talked to critics who did not like EVITA, and the flames they usually get claim the reason the critics did not like the film is because they really don't like musicals.

EVITA opens in a crowded movie theater in Buenos Aires. The year is 1952. Someone stops the projector, and the cinema manager (Gabriel Kraisman) goes out to tell the booing crowd some tragic news, "It is my sad duty to inform you that Eva Peron, spiritual leader of the nation, entered immortality this evening." This is followed by mass weeping.

The film then goes back in time to Evita's childhood. The story treats her as something between a saint and a demigod, and yet, she remains as much an enigma when the movie is over as when it began. I guess she was a liberal because in her weekly radio program she ask her admirers, "Tired of a government that no longer gives us the things we deserve?" I also learned that the military did not like her, and that is about it.

The cinematography by Darius Khondji is incredibly beautiful. He uses shadows and haze to film his subjects. Everything is bathed in warm earth tones. You may have seen his work before in SEVEN, THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, and STEALING BEAUTY. I predict he will get an Academy Award nomination for EVITA. The sets by Brian Morris (WUTHERING HEIGHTS and SABRINA) are also impressive.

The script is by Alan Parker and Oliver Stone and is based on the play "Evita" with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The script has almost every word sung, which might have worked with stronger singers and better songs. It does work when they have musical crowd scenes of people marching with banners unfurled or tanks rolling and soldiers marching. The chorus is good, but the individual singers are not. Banderas has a rough singing voice, Madonna has a weak one, and Jonathan Pryce, as Juan Peron, has none at all. Pryce gives up. His "singing" is more like hummed words.

For the first ten or fifteen minutes, the show concentrates on the crowd scenes and the visuals. At this point, the film was enjoyable. And then Madonna makes her entrance and the whole film starts imploding.

As I sat in the theater bored stiff with only the images to admire, I kept thinking: Where is Oliver Stone when you need him? He was originally slated to direct the film, but through a set of circumstances the director role was given over to Alan Parker. Parker is perhaps best known for MISSISSIPPI BURNING, but my favorite picture of his was PINK FLOYD: THE WALL, which had all of the energy and singing values that EVITA does not. You can, however, see a similarity between the crowd scenes in EVITA and the classroom scenes in PINK FLOYD: THE WALL. Still, Stone, as much as I have disparaged him in some of his work, might have been able to breathe some much needed life into EVITA.

The scene I will always remember from the show is not one of the excellent crowd sequences, but the first meeting of Eva and Juan. As the actors sing each other's names, it is so false and so strange sounding musically, that I began to laugh out loud at them.

In mid-December when I was on my way to the press screening, my car broke down on the highway. My ever-reliable auto had not done that in twelve years. Maybe it was trying to tell me something. Maybe I should have listened.

EVITA runs way too long at 2:14. It is rated PG, but given the bloody images I was surprised it was not PG-13. I think some kids under nine will be scared. I can not recommend EVITA, but will generously give it ** for the stunning visuals. If I could have turned the sound off, I would have liked it better.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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