Brett Morgen’s “Chicago 10” is nothing if not ambitious. It not only redefines the term “docudrama,” it demands “animated” be put in front of it. The movie stylishly portrays the story of the Chicago Seven with archival footage and animated sequences. Without reference to or retrospection from the present, Morgen crafts a film that is as pertinent as ever.
The movie weaves between archival and animated dramatizations while shifting bettween two timelines: the protest and ensuing brutality at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, and, a year later, the circus-like trial of the protest’s leaders: Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner and Bobby Seale.
The animation, designed to look be a bit jerky and homemade, doesn’t entirely work. The combination of shading and a a limited color palette sometimes results in awkward visuals. Also, scenes of the convention, largely archival, feel sporadic. But the form captures the zany abandon of the defendents and the passion with which they exercise their right to protest.
The farcical courtroom serves as a stage for political commentary and comedy. The film presents Judge Julius Hoffman as a close-minded rube who greenlights all the prosecution’s objections and sabotages the defense. The Yippies, Hoffman and Rubin, take joy in turning the court into a mockery of what they see as a corrupt legal system. The voice cast, including Hank Azaria, Dylan Baker, Nick Nolte and Mark Ruffalo, emphasize the madness of the proceedings.
Jeffrey Wright delivers a great voice performance as Seale, a Black Panther leader whose involvement in the protest was minimal. His attorney isn’t available and Judge Hoffman won’t let him defend himself, eventually taking famously extreme measures.
While the story does lightly touch on some of the questionable decisions of the Chicago Seven’s leaders, it generates a compelling argument for free speech. Full of new and old protest songs, rebellious thinkers and pride for the country that was built on them, “Chicago 10” is a fitting love song to misfits who might not be quite sure where they’re going, but are intent on getting there.