TV-MA. Um, this documentary shows some pretty brutal stuff. Like, stuff I didn't know could be put in film. While most of the movie should be seen, a small-but-relevant percentage of the movie is not for the squeamish.
DIRECTOR: Ezra Edelman
Let's talk, Internet. The Academy Awards decided an episodic, eight hour documentary was considered a movie. I posed this question to Facebook and got some mildly okay answers. It was shown in theaters in separate sections. But it was made by ESPN, a television network and broadcast the same way. This isn't an accusation on the documentary itself, so much as what qualifies a movie for the Academy Awards. Think how many other movies I could have watched in this time. (Four. The answer is four.)
There's a lot going on here. I can't say that I got too excited when I had the slowest opening credit establishing shots in the world overlapped with "ESPN" over them. For those who don't know me very well, I'm not a sports guy. Blasphemy, I know. This made going into a documentary about an athlete made by a sports network quite the feat. Part of the theme of this movie is that most people don't hear O.J. Simpson and think "athlete" anymore. ESPN sought to rectify that image. The movie is not exclusively a sports doc, but a major percentage of the first third focuses on his athletic career. And I get it. O.J. Simpson was a hero to a lot of people. My lack of love for sports has a pretty heavy criticism of sports heroes to begin with that the movie never really discusses in depth: the entitlement and the celebrity that comes with playing a game. Okay, I'm not going to win a lot of fans with this critique and frankly this isn't the forum for it. All I could think is that O.J. is very talented and there's no reason why he should want the world for that skill. Whatever. But Edelman does an excellent job showing why O.J. Simpson warmed the hearts of America. The first third of the documentary jumps between two perspectives: how Simpson became one of the most famous people in the country and how L.A. was the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement, for better and for worse. And that's what the movie really has going for it. It is a connection between O.J. Simpson's cultural identity and his perceived identity.
But it still is eight hours.
I've reached an age where documentaries are now considering my childhood somewhat historical. Edelman spells out every moment of the O.J. story that I remember from when I was 11. I didn't learn a ton. Part of what made this the Trial of the Century is that everyone was completely over-informed about every aspect of the case. Even me at 11, I knew what was up. Perhaps I didn't make all of the connections that the documentary spelled out for me, but there wasn't much surprising about watching this from an educational perspective. While I think that the documentary is overall great, I don't know why people are lavishing the documentary as a revolutionary work. If I had shown the same documentary in 1996, it would have come off as one of many documentaries talking about the exact same thing...only eight hours long. Honestly, I think that there probably was an E! True Hoillywood Story about the same material that was far more compact. A lot of the attention probably comes from the fact that O.J. has just resurfaced in the cultural awareness due to the TV show. I know Edelman had to be working on this for a long time. There is such an attention to every moment of O.J.'s career that this wasn't some fly-by-night operation. But the quality of the movie lacks some of the impact that other documentaries like 13th present. It is very straightforward, so I'm surprised that it is turning so many heads.
I do find the racial connection interesting. Considering that the actual O.J. trial came down to a trial about racial profiling and social justice, the setup for the historical context is extremely welcome. I don't consider what I am saying to be a spoiler because it is a historical fact, but the trial of O.J. Simpson was situated a very specific time in racial tension. So many different events happened in such a specific line that the trial had to be bigger than what it should have been. On a tangential idea, the problems we are having in society when it comes to race may be due to this trial. The message of the documentary? The O.J. Simpson verdict was a major civil rights breakthrough for Black America...and it couldn't have happened to a worse individual. The documentary pretty much proves that O.J. Simpson killed his wife and her friend and that justice wasn't served that day. But on the other hand, White America had, for one short moment in time, an understanding what it means for race to prevail over obvious injustice. White America will never know what it means to be black, but for one day, there was at least a peek through the curtain of racism and it never came back.
One of the comments I got when I posted that I would be watching this documentary is to wait for the last two episodes. They were cut differently than they are presented on Hulu, but I could figure out what was being said. The story I was interested in was how O.J. Simpson ended up in jail anyway. By that point in the story, everyone was so sick of hearing the name O.J. Simpson that I know that I didn't care. He was the guy who got away with murder for me. He was on every TV show and I just wanted the world to shut up. So watching the end was riveting. I had both a sense of justice and sadness at the same time. Spoiler alert: Simpson ruined what life he had left. And White America had to get revenge. It's a very sobering idea of what we can do. It was a scenario without a right answer and that's pretty interesting. And after eight hours, I learned what the documentary wanted me to learn. It's a pretty heavy idea and I'm grateful to have watched it.
But it was also eight hours.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.