"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
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
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