Chicago 10 (2007)

Genres - History  |   Sub-Genres - Law & Crime, Politics & Government, Social History  |   Release Date - Feb 29, 2008 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 103 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Brett Morgen impressed documentary audiences with his outside-the-box visual approach to The Kid Stays in the Picture, an adaptation of Hollywood mogul Robert Evans' gonzo autobiography. The director has taken several more giant leaps down that road with Chicago 10, his lively immersion into the heavily protested Democratic Convention of 1968. By employing animated reenactments over a spine of archival footage, Morgen brings this historical moment to a new generation, using Richard Linklater's favored technique of rotoscoping and the vocal talents of Hank Azaria among others to dramatize the trial of these accused instigators. Through this, absurd events like the judge-ordered binding and gagging of one of the defendants come to life in ways the transcript alone could never achieve. (Of course, since one of these defendants was Abbie Hoffman, these courtroom details are as hilarious as they are shocking.) The shrewd decision to score the film with political-minded modern rock, such as Rage Against the Machine and the Beastie Boys, rather than the stock '60s catalogue that typically accompanies such material, also lends timelessness to the film's spirit of liberal protest, still alive and well in 2008. Yet there's also a disconnect in our understanding about what side everybody is on, as Hoffman's yippies protested the very political party with which they'd find sanctuary today, personified by the father of all Democratic party archetypes, Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley. If Morgen's project comes up short anywhere, it's in providing a perfectly clear distillation of who everybody is and what roles they played over the course of several chaotic days. But the details hardly matter when the sense of place is recreated so vividly. It's becoming Morgen's trademark to marry his style with his substance, and Chicago 10 has all the crackling style and substance of Hoffman's most penetrating wisecracks.