Chicago 10 Movie Review

The story of the 1968 Democratic Convention riots and the trial that followed would seem to have it all, with no need for sexing up. There were riots in the streets (broadcast live on TV, even), youthful heroes with a zest for the theatrical, scowling villains with little regard for decency, and the sense that the future of America was hanging in the balance. That wasn't enough, though, for director Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture), who said that with Chicago 10 he wanted to make a film that "resonates with kids today" by being done "in a language they understand... without talking heads and a narrator and all those trappings." Thus: Animation and Rage Against the Machine on the soundtrack. The first sign, of course, that somebody will be wholly unable to effectively communicate with kids today is when they refer to them as "kids today."

Morgen's conceit with Chicago 10 -- mixing archival footage of the riot and its aftermath with animated recreations of the trial -- is not the film's problem. In fact, by breaking away from the well-worn documentarian's path of narration and flashback, Morgen does opens interesting doors for other filmmakers to follow. But the filmmakers (Morgen's main backer was Vanity Fair editor and occasional political dilettante Graydon Carter) have such a lack of faith in their own subject's inherent power that it all ends up more a gimmick than a bold new direction in non-fiction filmmaking. Medium Cool 2008 it's not.

The gimmickry is most blatant in the courtroom scenes, where the Yippies are being frog-marched through a howlingly unfair mockery of a trial. Although the dialogue is taken straight from the transcript, Morgen can't help but overplay his hand. So prosecutor Tom Foran's lines come out in Nick Nolte's frighteningly strangled squawk, while judge Julius Hoffman (whose ludicrous contempt citations were later tossed out by an appeals court) is voiced as pure malefic villainy by the late Roy Scheider. The defendants get more human voicing (Hank Azaria as Abbie Hoffman, Mark Ruffalo as Jerry Rubin) and also the opportunity to ham it up, Yippie-style. The stark animation renders everyone in the courtroom equally stiff, but Morgen swoops his camera through the confined space to lend it a dynamism that initially impresses but eventually distracts. No surprise then that such a surface-oriented film is so taken with Hoffman and Rubin's freaking-the-straights antics, a little of which goes a very long way. Their clown poses seem even more ridiculous when placed against the sight of Bobby Seale (Jeffrey Wright) literally bound and gagged by Judge Hoffman; a sickening display of thuggish authoritarianism that makes the Yippies' comedy riffs the film is so enamored of seem pathetic as a response.

Where Chicago 10 does impress is in the depth of its research. With viewers accustomed to seeing the Chicago riots in a few well-worn clips shoehorned into 1960s retrospectives, the looping collages that follow the protestors flooding into Lincoln Park and the eruptions of violence afterward will be a revelation. What becomes clear is not just the protestors' lack of central planning (once gathered in Lincoln Park and denied a permit to march, the crowds and their Yippie leaders seem lost) but how their buoyant optimism faded to terror in the face of the police and National Guard's machine-like determination to sweep the city clean. Moments briefly sting with the haunt of incipient fascism: Allen Ginsberg chanting with shaking fear over a loudspeaker, blue-shirted police swarming through the trees with nightsticks flailing. But their power is lost through a messy editing structure and a strangely abrupt conclusion.

By shearing away the standard documentary props in the interest of not boring those darn kids, Morgen has unfortunately left himself with a dilemma: how else to establish the context for the riots? Assuming that Chicago 10 is targeted at today's politically aware youth (there's at least two or three out there), and wants to educate them about the American left's radical past, it seems to take on faith that they will have a good grasp on the national mood, circa 1968. The film gives the barest dash of background on where the Vietnam War was during the time, but any unschooled youths (the ones Morgen hopes to entice by playing Eminem's "Mosh" during footage of one march) wondering why the liberals were protesting the Democrats will be left out in the cold. Chicago 10 is a film that makes history (literally) into a cartoon.

And get out of his yard, too.


Comments

Chicago 10 Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 2008

Advertisement

Editors Recommendations

Surprise, Surprise: Thanks To Marvel, Robert Downey Jr. Continues His Reign As Hollywood's Richest Actor

It’s that time of the year again. With Forbes having published its...

Surprise, Surprise: Thanks To Marvel, Robert Downey Jr. Continues His Reign As Hollywood's Richest Actor

Simpsons Mania: FXX To Put Every Episode Online

American cable network FXX struck a deal last year to buy the rights to the...

Simpsons Mania: FXX To Put Every Episode Online

Beyonce Fends Off Divorce Rumours With Cute Instagram Snap

Rumours that a seperation is imminent have plagued the music power couple...

Beyonce Fends Off Divorce Rumours With Cute Instagram Snap

Justin Bieber Could Face Citizen's Arrest

After being called out six times to break up a rowdy party at his new digs in Beverely Hills, the police...

Justin Bieber Could Face Citizen's Arrest

J.J Abrams Reveals New X-Wing Fighter in New Star Wars Episode VII Video [Pictures]

J.J Abrams treated Star Wars fans to a look at a new model of the iconic...

J.J Abrams Reveals New X-Wing Fighter in New Star Wars Episode VII Video [Pictures]

'Boyhood' has 99% on Rotten Tomatoes. It Is Almost the Perfect Movie

It's no surprise that Richard Linklater's movie Boyhood was this week...

'Boyhood' has 99% on Rotten Tomatoes. It Is Almost the Perfect Movie
Advertisement

Once Upon A Time To Add Hans to Frozen Storyline

It was announced earlier this year that ABC series 'Once Upon A Time' would be...

Once Upon A Time To Add Hans to Frozen Storyline

Did Selena Gomez Dash Off To St Tropez To Bask In A New Relationship?

I don’t know about you, but she’s feeling 22… Selena Gomez just turned...

Did Selena Gomez Dash Off To St Tropez To Bask In A New Relationship?

The Sound Of Seattle: Budweiser Made In America See How Music Has Changed In The Noisy City

Seattle has one of the most legendary music scenes in America so...

The Sound Of Seattle: Budweiser Made In America See How Music Has Changed In The Noisy City


More recommendations

Advertisement