Produced with a little help from Vanity Fair honcho Graydon Carter, this unclassifiable cine-essay from Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture) burnishes the Chicago Seven trial with an iGeneration makeover. Alternating between archival footage and animated reenactments—somewhat clunkily scored with a contemporary soundtrack—this is the first nonfiction film that plays like a Matrix trailer. The lively vocal cast includes Hank Azaria as Abbie Hoffman and the late Roy Scheider as Judge Julius Hoffman (no relation), who gamely launch into acting out the courtroom circus that followed the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The tone of the trial is perhaps best epitomized by the fact that the judge had defendant and Black Panther cofounder Bobby Seale gagged and bound to a chair. (It was the Chicago Eight before Seale’s case was separated, and the defense attorneys make it ten.)
Energetic as the courtroom antics are, the vintage footage holds its own amazements: You’ll see Mayor Daley growling that this will be the best convention ever, protesters getting rowdy in Lincoln Park and kids in a southside neighborhood playing a violent new game called “cops and demonstrators.” The movie’s stylistic eccentricity is a tribute to its protagonists’ rebellious spirit. That such protests would seem surreal or cartoonish today—following a period of profound national apathy—is precisely the point.