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Chicago 10

More self-consciously revolutionary than it really is, Chicago 10 is self-promotion meets social activism.


Based on the sensational 1968 trial of the Chicago 7 (a group of anti-war protestors charged with conspiracy and inciting a riot), Chicago 10 is part documentary, part motion-capture animation. The Chicago 7 was actually eight people, and Chicago 10 is named after the group's two attorneys, who also went courageously to jail. The men on trial included Abbie Hoffman, the outspoken icon of Chicago-based activism, and Jerry Rubin, a 20th century celebrity in his own right. Chicago 10's cartoon portion tries to recreate the drama of the real-life trial. The jury listens skeptically and a crotchety old judge (voiced by the late Roy Scheider) gives the defendants' opposition. It's a commentary of the farcical nature of the trial--and the surreal standards behind it. Connecting the dots is a music video-like series of documentary images, spotlighted by horrific scenes such as the Chicago police and National Guardsmen striking back scores of protestors. Rage Against the Machine and Beastie Boys songs underlie violent tableaus. For Americans born 1980 and after, this era of left-leaning cultural dissent can be a foreign world. The 1960s' silencing of voices questioning the government, in the era of civil rights and the Vietnam War, has been echoed with the Iraqi War. But protests like Chicago 10 are a rarity today.


On display are the voices of a handful of top Hollywood stars--including Mark Ruffalo, Jeffrey Wright, Nick Nolte, Liev Schrieber and Hank Azaria--as the voices of the courtroom players. As with many star-studded animation productions, the result is not greater than the sum of its parts. Although Scheider, in his last performance, provides the most distinctive voice as Judge Julius Hoffman, Ruffalo, Wright, are lost in the mix. Partially because of a limp-ish script, the actors have to inject excitement into a static courtroom environment--but compared to 12 Angry Men or Primal Fear, it just doesn't engage.


Director Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture) comes with a fresh, visionary perspective. He brings a vibrant attitude to this anti-war flick, but it's one poorly executed, or at least unevenly so. At the heart of the film's animation, there are technical problems. The character's eyes are dead, and their movements clunky despite the lively body motions. Compared to a higher budget movie like Beowulf, the animation is many years behind. It's a big reason to discount the slowness by which Chicago 10 chief concept operates. The animation doesn't provide enough dramatic potency to involve the audience, and becomes more like a gimmick. Messy, psychedelic assemblage of documentary footage--though culled reportedly from thousands of images and minutes of tape--doesn't add insight beyond common knowledge. Unfortunately, it just isn't much different from what we've already seen.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 1/2 stars.