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Evita
Starring Madonna,
Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Pryce
Directed by Alan Parker

Evita is adapted from the operatic stage musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. As always Cranky makes no comparison to the source material. (Of course in this case, when Evita was new, Cranky was hip deep in college, so he's never even listened to the original record, let alone seen a production on Broadway.) You should also know that, in general, Cranky doesn't like musicals or opera, though he did like the two Webber/Rice works which preceded Evita (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar).

Evita is based on the life of Eva Duarte de Peron, an Argentine woman whose mother was a poor woman and whose father was a middle-class gentleman with another (legitimate) family. Eva Duarte climbed the class ladder (with the help of well placed lovers) to a career as model, radio actress, and wife of the leader of the country. As depicted in the score, her climb is cold and calculated; her contempt for the middle and upper classes is plain; her ambition is all-encompassing. Evita's ability to effect long term economic change for the lower classes from which she came may have been an illusion, but her roots were a political advantage to both her and her husband. Her death at an early age kicked the perception of her effectiveness up into the stratosphere.

Jonathan Pryce (as Juan Peron) has substantial musical stage, dramatic theater, and film credits behind him. Madonna (as Evita) can sing and perform lip synch, but as an actress she leaves a lot to be desired. Antonio Banderas (as Che) isn't famous for his singing, and Cranky wasn't much impressed by his last few acting assignments, either. Could Madonna and Antonio pull this off? The answer is an unqualified "yes."

There are unpleasant details to the political life of the "real" Eva Peron, but injecting those into the piece would have killed it on the spot 20 years ago. Juan Peron was a Fascist and a dictator, and Alan Parker's screen adaptation doesn't dance around the fact that though Evita performed the regime's kindness for the masses, it was simultaneously ruthless against its political opponents. The focus is on Evita, and you are left to decide if she truly wanted to help the poor, or if she was playing them for fools. The lyrics play it both ways. The answer, as far as the fantasy that all movies are, is found in a definitive performance by Madonna.

Politics aside, Madonna plays what she knows. She came from a poor family, and is said to have eaten discarded hamburger before initial success. Even then she was marked as an MTV-made pop/disco joke. She's claimed for years that she would star in the film version of Evita, and was always heartily dismissed for the claim. In many ways her rise to the economic stratosphere mirrors Eva Duarte's. Madonna taps into her early experiences -- you can see the anger in her eyes -- and gives a performance that shines.

Jonathan Pryce delivers the professional performance one can expect, but the big surprise is Banderas, who (as Che) narrates the story from end to beginning and back again. Not only does he sing the part with emotion, he synchs it well.

Director Alan Parker has staged a spectacle, filling almost every scene with people, props and choreographed movement. Parker was, perhaps, an inspired choice to direct Evita, with solid background in both dramatic and musical film (Fame, The Commitments).

Many may have expected Evita to fall flat on its face. Cranky did not, honestly, walk in with high expectations. There are many stylistic constructions which remind him of Superstar (this was written 20 years ago), but it is a beautifully produced and executed musical film. Cranky liked it.

As with every film that earns more than a notation on my Nominations list, Evita carries the standard "Oscar race" rating of . . .

$7.00

You gotta go by what I think this time, folks. This is one of the few times I sat in a critic's screening, without benefit of watching a real audience's reactions to help me out. By the time Evita opens, Cranky intends to be on a beach. Happy Holidays.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.