Opens at Varsity, Fri., March 14. Rated R. 103 minutes.
Thirteen months after Hubert Humphrey was nominated for president in a hall ringed with barbed wire and surrounded by National Guardsmen, amid four days of violent clashes between Chicago police and anti-war protesters, the government charged eight political activists with crossing state lines as part of a conspiracy to incite riot. Their carnivalesque trial resulted in five convictions (later overturned) and citations of contempt that included two defense lawyers—hence writer-director Brett Morgen's Chicago 10. Arguably the greatest media spectacle of the High '60s, the convention telecast included ample street violence. But if the convention was a tragedy, the trial was a farce. Revisiting events at once overly familiar and impossible to imagine, Morgen's impure mix of documentary footage and rotoscopic computer animation has a deliberate and irritating absence of context, and however authentically chaotic, Chicago 10 is insufficiently frenzied. According to the trades, Morgen's deliberately ahistorical treatment is a dry run for Steven Spielberg's planned Trial of the Chicago 7—to be scripted by Aaron Sorkin, with Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman and possibly Will Smith as Bobby Seale. Schindler's List gave the Holocaust a happy ending, and Saving Private Ryan reduced World War II to a single mission, so why not recast the inexplicable convulsions of the late '60s in terms of personality? From bloody tragedy to savage farce to star-struck myth.