Director: Ezra Edelman
Cinematographer: Nick Higgins
Producer: Ezra Edelman, Caroline Waterlow, Tamara Rosenberg, Nina Krstic, Deirdre Fenton, Libby Geist, Erin Leyden, Connor Schell
by Jon Cvack
2016 was actually one of the most disappointing years for film in recent times, where while there were many good films, none of them were great. Every year there are usually one or two films that provide that lingering, indescribable feeling; where it sticks with you for days or weeks after, leaving you with that wonderful experience that only great art can provide. I had forgotten about ESPN’s OJ: Made in America until it took home the Academy Award, reminding me that this is no longer a television event, but regarded as a 10-hour, five part feature film, demonstrating how arbitrary the category is. It leaves you wondering why a narrative mini-series couldn’t qualify for Best Picture, as series like "Band of Brothers" (2001) or "Show Me a Hero" (2015) could have easily and deservedly won. What made this film so powerful was that it showed the hypocrisy, contradiction, and nastiness on all sides; examining sociology, history, politics, and cultural criticism; providing one of the most insightful American documentaries I’ve ever seen.
Having been only a tween during OJ’s trial, I honestly had no idea what the whole thing was about, other than it was a celebrity who got caught in a murder (I wasn’t a football fan), and got off, presumably innocent. I’m embarrassed to say that, until the doc, I had no idea that the whole event was such a monumental moment in America’s history of racial divisions.
I had tried starting the narrative miniseries "American Crime Story" when it first came out, but only able to find a link on Vimeo late one night, I just couldn’t get past the initial fifteen minutes of TV-style editing, in which before a commercial break, the music builds up and cuts to black. Fortunately, my other friend said I should give it another go, and having finished OJ: Made in America a few months back, I figured it might be worth checking out. While it took a bit of time to get past those stupid TV editing tricks, it eventually levels off and provides a great supplement to the vast assembly of colorful personalities and diverse characters, examining the many issues that the documentary explored, while going a further into the personal lives of many individuals who were associated with the case
On account of rehashing the entire event would likely take up pages and pages, I’m going to assume you’re fully aware and have seen at least one or both of these series so that I can straight to the good stuff. The majority of the series is focused on the trial itself, featuring the prosecution of Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) and Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown), offering two of the story’s greatest performances, along with Courtney B. Vance, who plays the defense attorney Johnnie Cochran, along with Robert Shapiro (John Travolta), Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer), and F. Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane), amongst a few others. Of course, OJ Simpson is played by Cuba Gooding, Jr., in his best role since Jerry MaGuire. What’s fascinating is the humanity each of these characters provides - possessing both hubris and gross intelligence, driven by dreams of power and/or wealth which a successful trial could bring about.
Looking to the prosecution first, we see Marcia Clark in a devastatingly human light, as an Assistant District Attorney and single mother going through a lengthy divorce, facing a loss of child custody for all the hours she puts in at the office - even though the reason she’s putting in all these hours is in order to provide a better life for her boys. Nevertheless, she understands what convicting OJ could do for her career, no less than her boss and District Attorney Gil Garcetti (Bruce Greenwood) who has Mayoral dreams, who believes the open and shut case will seal the deal.
What we see is that Marcia’s own arrogance at least contributed to her downfall, as she refused to listen to Chris Darden’s advice that putting Detective Mark Fuhrman (Steven Pasquales; who discovered the infamous glove), who he suspected might have racist tendencies, could very well blow up in their faces.
Yet Chris isn’t completely clean either, as his determination to have OJ try on the glove had equally dire consequences for the case - though if things transpired the way they did in the film, with Shapiro noticing the glove looking small, this could have happened regardless. Yet it’s clear that Darden also has lofty aspirations, as Brown conveys with his various looks and responses; as each time Darden is promoted he sees that his chances of reaching success are all the closer. There’s not anything wrong with these motivations, as in any industry - and Los Angeles, specifically - the drive to the top requires intelligence, and that intelligence is often aware of what opportunity can do what. What’s most fascinating is seeing the arrogance from Garcetti, Darden, and Clark all causing them to take their cold-hard facts for granted.
Marcia isn’t helped by the overwhelmingly sexist atmosphere of what Judge Lance Ito (played brilliantly by Kenneth Choice) refers to as male-dominated professions. In one scene, after another conflict arises between the prosecution and defense, Ito says that the court will have to go late. But with the heated divorce proceedings, Clark needs to get home to her children. After the entirely male defense explains that such an excuse is ridiculous, Clark implores the judge that she’s trying to be a good mother, before scolding Cochrane for trying to bring her personal life into the courtroom. Later, and in one of the nastiest scenes, after Clark attempts to get a new awkward hairdo to rid of herself of the “bitchy” label that people keeping throwing around, Garcetti apologizes for the criticism before saying that he could refer her to a media consultant (i.e., beautician) that could fix the problem.
Continued to Part 2...
BELOW: One of many stranger than fiction moments
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