The Chicago 8 is a perfect example of how not to make a movie and why some films end up going directly to DVD.
[Not] released in theaters, The Chicago 8 is landing on DVD and OnDemand with a resounding thud. Written and directed by Pinchas Perry, the film is based on the infamous 1968 trial that resulted from protests that took place outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The men who stood trial included seven members of an anti-war movement and a member of the Black Panther party who, throughout the duration of the trial, fought his own battle to be treated equally.
The majority of the film takes place within a Chicago courtroom presided over by the volatile and bigoted Judge Julius Hoffman (Philip Baker Hall). Among the Chicago 8 (a name bestowed upon the men by their hippie minions) were legendary anti-establishmentarians Jerry Rubin (Danny Masterson) and Abbie Hoffman (Thomas Ian Nicholas). While Rubin, Hoffman, and the other five white men were released on bail, Bobby Seale (Orlando Jones), the sole black defendant, was denied bail, as well as the right to represent himself at trial.
“Trial” might actually be the wrong word. Throughout the proceedings, The Chicago 8 behave like children, flirting with the women in attendance, celebrating birthdays, and reading comic books. It’s little wonder that Judge Hoffman treats them as harshly as he does. Bill Kunstler (Gary Cole), the men’s attorney, stands impotent as the men behave like buffoons, only attracting the judge’s attention (and wrath) when he makes claims that Bobby’s treatment is a result of his race. While they hardly take the court case seriously during the trial, outside the courtroom they rally their troops in hopes of getting public opinion on their side in hopes of vindication upon their release.
The Chicago 8 is a perfect example of how not to make a movie and why some films end up going directly to DVD. The movie is almost unwatchable due to Perry’s endless antics with camera angles, split screens, documentary footage, and editing. Watching The Chicago 8 is like watching a child get his first video camera and begin playing with all the cool buttons and tricks. Perry can’t decide on a single approach to his material and has no overarching style to tie the narrative together.
More distracting than Perry’s pathetic attempts at directing are the unintentionally hilarious performances from the entire cast. Ian Nicholas, employing the most ridiculous “Bahston” accent, grandstands in every scene, perhaps trying to channel either Lenny Bruce or Chris Farley; it’s hard to tell which. Masterson does his usual brooding-alternating-with-outbursts-of-anger shtick, barely progressing beyond his work on That 70s Show. Sadly, Cole, who has given some great comedic performances, is so terribly miscast that his big dramatic moment, in which he breaks down in tears, is almost cringe-inducing.
The cast can’t be entirely blamed. Perry’s script is barely coherent and doesn’t portray any of the characters as real people. Judge Hoffman is pissed off for seemingly no reason, and even he doesn’t seem to understand what’s gotten him so riled up. The anti-war ranting of Rubin, Hoffman, and their ilk consists of vague, half-formed ideas and plans riddled with impossibilities. The film’s climax is bland and drags on for far, far too long, with an epilogue displayed on screen that sounds much more interesting than the entire film itself.
While the writer/director may have had good intentions behind making The Chicago 8, the final product is a painful, frustrating, and unnecessary exercise in self-importance. | Matthew Newlin