Sundance Reviews: "Chicago 10" Is Unique But Flawed; "The Savages" Is Wrenching And True

by | January 20, 2007 | Comments

Here are some short reviews of "Chicago 10" and "The Savages," both of which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

With its bold amalgamation of archival footage and rotoscope animation, "Chicago 10" is certainly unique. And initially, in the wake of the current debate over a "surge" of U.S. forces in Iraq, Brett Morgen’s film feels joltingly timely: it begins with Lyndon Johnston announcing troop escalation in Vietnam. From there, the film tells the story of the Chicago Seven, the group of radicals that included Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale; they were tried on a number of charges, including inciting a riot, in the wake of the violence that surrounded the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The animation is smooth and vibrantly colorful, while the old footage of the Chicago riots is horrifyingly bleak; it’s clear excessive force was used against anti-war protesters, and that the Chicago Seven were railroaded.

"Chicago 10": Talkin’ ’bout a revolution.

But as the movie progresses, something is missing; "Chicago 10" always threatens to make a point or two about the current state of the union, but never quite delivers. Despite being on the right side of history in more than a few ways (not least because the charges against them were ultimately dismissed), the Yippies’ antics (particularly Hoffman’s) can feel pretty anachronistic and childish given the gravity of times. While the filmmakers clearly hoped to light a fire under contemporary audiences, it ultimately feels a bit more like a history lesson, albeit one told with plenty of flair. "Chicago 10" is still an interesting film, but it will have to settle for second place in the "films set during the 1968 Democratic Convention that mix documentary and dramatic styles" sweepstakes behind "Medium Cool."

"Chicago 10" is currently at 80 percent on the Tomatometer; critics have praised the film’s stylistic daring and its depiction of a remarkable moment in history.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney in "The Savages"

People die in the movies all the time. However, not many films show the untidiness of the slow journey into darkness with as much honesty and earned poignancy as "The Savages," Tamara Jenkins‘ assured second feature. Wendy (Laura Linney) and John (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are adult siblings whose estranged father Lenny (Phillip Bosco) is suffering from dementia, and his care has fallen unexpectedly into their hands. Wendy seems on the verge of a crisis already. She’s underemployed and romantically unfulfilled, and her hand-wringing over her father’s care may stem from her own troubles. John isn’t in the best emotional shape either, but he’s more of a realist; he accepts the messiness of the situation and is looking to deal with it as efficiently as possible ("We’re taking better care of the old man than he ever took of us," he says). All of the performances are excellent, but Bosco’s is particularly fine. He doesn’t play the old man with warmth or wisdom, and that’s just right; this man is himself right up to the end. Despite its gloomy subject matter, "The Savages" is surprisingly entertaining, featuring well-drawn characters, some bitter laughs, and an aching humanity throughout.

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