Review: 'The Chicago 8' (Featuring Meta Golding) Friday 31 August, 2012
By Savanna New
For those of you who’d like to see Meta Golding (Enobaria) in action before Catching Fire opens next November, you’ll have your chance when The Chicago 8 is released theatrically and on video-on-demand next Tuesday (September 4). To demand a screening in your area, visit tugg.com.
(Oh, and for all of you StarKid and Glee fans, be on the lookout for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance by Darren Criss!)
Written and directed by Pinchas Perry and starring Philip Baker Hall, Gary Cole, Steve Culp, Mayim Bialik, and Danny Masterson, The Chicago 8 is an independent film centered around “the most infamous court case in America’s history”: the 1969 Chicago Seven (or Eight) trial. If you’ve never heard of this case before, you’re not alone. It seems to be an event that has sort of slipped through the cracks of history, which is why this movie is so important and worth seeing — especially if you have any interest in law, civil rights, or U.S. politics.
In 1968, as American involvement in the Vietnam War reached its apex and the country became increasingly divided, an anti-War rally was organized in Chicago to coincide with the Democratic National Convention. As the size of the rally grew, Mayor Richard Daley authorized Chicago’s police force to quell it, which they did. A riot broke out, hundreds were injured over the course of several days, and eight protesters were arrested and accused of conspiracy to start a riot: Abbie Hoffman (Thomas Ian Nichoas), Jerry Rubin (Masterson), David Dellinger (Peter Mackenzie), Tom Hayden (David Julian Hirsh), Rennie Davis, John Froines (Jamie Elman), Lee Weiner (Aaron Abrams), and Bobby Seale (Orlando Jones).
After a quick run-through of the events described above, The Chicago 8 thrusts us into Judge Julius Hoffman’s courtroom and the topsy-turvy world of the American justice system. Believing themselves guilty of nothing more than exercising their free speech rights, the Eight swiftly turn into media and public sensations as they do everything they can to disrupt and stall the trial (think birthday parties, memorial ceremonies, and impromptu musical performances). The circus-like atmosphere that their antics create, however, is swiftly countered by Judge Hoffman (Hall), who doesn’t hesitate to implement some pretty harsh and disturbing measures in an attempt to regain and retain control. Seale — the only African-American member of the Eight and co-founder of the Black Panthers — becomes Hoffman’s main target and is eventually severed from the trial.
Meta Golding plays Leslie, Seale’s wife, and her time onscreen is pretty limited and mostly silent. Though we only get to see her speak once, her brief-but-charged performance is quite memorable, and it’s clear that she’s a powerful actor capable of conveying a great deal of emotion without a ton of dialogue. Having seen Golding in nothing prior to this, her few minutes in the spotlight here were enough to convince me that she’ll be a standout Enobaria.
Closely based on actual court transcripts and featuring news footage from the time, The Chicago 8 feels incredibly real. This is by no means a shiny, big-budget production, but the film doesn’t suffer as a result. In fact, it’s this lack of gloss that strengthens both the intensity and authenticity of the story that’s told. I frequently felt as though I were watching a play rather than a movie, especially since the majority of the action takes place in one setting (the courtroom). The use of split screens to show us the reactions of different people in different parts of the courtroom was an unexpected but neat effect and created a sort of theatre-in-the-round experience at times. The acting is just stellar and was by far the highlight of the film for me. Hall and Jones give particularly phenomenal performances, but the entire cast is ridiculously talented and deserving of praise.
Note: The film is currently unrated but is definitely only appropriate for adult audiences due to mature content.