Eugene Weekly : Movies : 4.3.08


Life and Death
The state versus the people in Chicago 10

CHICAGO 10: Written and directed by Brett Morgen. Starring Hank Azaria, Dylan Baker, Nick Nolte, Mark Ruffalo, Roy Scheider, Liev Schreiber and Jeffrey Wright. Roadside Attractions, 2007. R. 100 minutes.

The Chicago 10

Remember the 1968 Democratic National Convention? Mayor Daley, 25,000 police and troops, hundreds of thousands of antiwar “kids” following the Yippies and the Mobe to Chicago?

I don’t. Neither does Chicago 10 filmmaker Brett Morgen. Forty years ago, this country was embroiled in an unpopular war, with a president losing approval ratings like mad; the desire for change spurred action. In Chicago 10, Morgen uses footage from the time and motion capture technology to make points about the need for resistance. His title recaptures the original Chicago 8 (including Black Panther Bobby Seale along with the white defendants) and adds their two defense lawyers, jailed for comtempt of court charges.

The film intercuts riveting news footage of the protests with animation of what Jerry Rubin called “a cartoon trial.” Actors like Hank Azaria and Jeffrey Wright voice the defendants and the defense lawyers; Nick Nolte turns in a super performance as the hostile prosecutor. But the strongest performance may be that of Roy Scheider as Judge Julius Hoffman (no relation to Abbie). “It’s unbelievable theater. … I view it as a clash between life and death,” Abbie Hoffman says.

The theatrical nature both of the trial and the protests can’t be denied. Hoffman also says, “There’s a whole fascist thing going on around this trial.” That’s never more clear than in the scenes with Judge Hoffman facing off against Seale. Morgen wanted to “craft a story about courage and honor and the refusal to be silenced,” and, along with a story about the crushing power of what even Walter Cronkite referred to as Chicago’s police state, that’s precisely what he accomplished. Chicago 10 opens Friday, April 4, at the Bijou.