Evita was Madonna's last chance to justify her presence on the silver screen, and by some miracle it worked. Not only does Madonna do justice to a singing part that was written for someone with a better vocal range, but she also managed to convince us that she has some acting ability. Her past films (with the exception of the documentary Truth or Dare) have always been the worst kind of movie fare; in Evita, she seems to have found her vehicle.
In case you haven't heard by now, Evita tells the story of Eva Duarte, a driven woman, born illegitimate and poor, who moved to Buenos Aires to become rich and famous. According to the movie, she basically sleeps her way to the top, eventually marrying Juan Peron, the right hand man to the military leader of Argentina. When Juan becomes a threat to the establishment, he is jailed. Eva sucessfully campaigns for his release, and later campaigns for his election when democracy is instituted.
Eva was herself an enigma. While she seemed to genuinely care for the poor of Argentina, she did little to stem the corruption and oppression of her husband's government. Such was the controversy, that years after she had died and her body had been put on public display, the government that replaced Peron's had the corpse hidden in Europe, so it would not continue to remind people of the past.
Madonna plays this part to the hilt. Undoubtedly, some would say, this is because Madonna and Eva share so many characteristics: They both came to the big city from poverty, some people claim they both slept their way to the top, they both changed their hair color, and both managed to woo entire countries with little more than powerful charisma. Luckily this movie has more than just the Material Girl.
Alan Parker, as director, brings some experience in filming musical movies: he is the man who brought us Fame, Pink Floyd: The Wall, and The Commitments. Perhaps most importantly, he realized that merely reproducing the stage show on film would have ruined Evita (the film) entirely. Mercifully, the part of Che Guevarra is removed (along with the weird political metaphor that went along with him) and replaced with Banderas' Che, a character who sings the Guevarra part but plays a more everyman/spirit-of-Argentina role. Much of the libretto, which would have dragged on screen, has been replaced with the more visual storytelling which can be achieved in a movie. If you have to convert musicals to film, you might as well get Alan Parker to direct.
Another reason Madonna may be so comfortable in this film is the fact that many of the musical sequences have been edited like a music video, with lots of fast cuts and striking visuals. Much of the plot is conveyed during the big musical numbers with corresponding actions for every word. Either Parker learned a lot from MTV or MTV learned a lot from Parker.
One person who never seems to learn anything is Andrew Lloyd Webber. Half of the music for this film seems to based on minor rearrangements of his own score to Jesus Christ Superstar. Fortunately, the stylized visuals overshadow the deficiencies of the score. And now, from the English dud to the Latin stud...
While we've enjoyed Banderas' acting since Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, this is the first time we've truly been impressed with the man's multiple talents. Not only does he have an impressive screen presence, he can also sing wonderfully and dance moderately well. No wonder Madonna was so hot to trot for the guy a few years ago. As Fred Astaire knew, a man who can dance and sing doesn't have to be handsome. In Banderas' case, three out of three makes for hot property.
This is a vibrant production, full of life. One could watch it without ever knowing it was based on a stage play. Granted, Hollywood doesn't make musicals anymore, so you know it has to be based on something! Our only hope is that the next musical that Hollywood produces will not be based the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber. There's so much more out there.