This time last year, I was hooked on HBO’s The People vs. O.J. Simpson, despite initially only tuning in to get a peek at John Travolta’s startling transformation for his role. Only vaguely familiar with the legendary trial, which happened when I was only three or four, I found this re-imagining entertaining and engaging but presumed it was largely over-dramatised for the purposes of television. After fully digesting Ezra Edelman’s seven and a half hour long documentary, it is evident that the infamous trial was as much of a chaotic circus as fiction would have us believe. Divided into five distinct segments, O.J.: Made in America captures all aspects of its subject. From his golden years as a record breaking football player, to his commercial success as a brand representative, to his role in an abusive marriage, to his part in the trial of the century – we witness O.J. Simpson as an icon, an abuser, a star and a criminal. Tied in with the journey through Simpson’s life is the changing racial dynamics and atrocities within American culture from the violent behaviours of the 1960s through to current day attitudes. As a man who barely identified as an African-American, it’s crucial to understand the role race played in Simpson’s murder trial and the reception he received before and after the case by both black and white communities. This is the heart of Edelman’s triumphant study of Simpson. He has carefully gathered the voices of friends, jurors, enemies and colleagues to paint a detailed and divisive picture of a powerful American celebrity out of touch with the realities of the world around him. O.J.: Made in America helps us to draw our own conclusions about this enigmatic character by presenting us with the conclusions of a vast cross section of those who encountered, worked alongside, or were impacted by ‘The Juice’. This is an undoubtedly deserved ‘Best Documentary’ Academy Award winner.
Edelman weaves an intricate tapestry made up of archive footage of the 1995 trial, images of police evidence, home recordings of police brutality, talking heads, television commercials, news reports and on-air interviews to bring us closer to Simpson and his persona which has always remained a mysterious and controversial blur. The media, the interviewees and family and friends are brought together to tell all sides of the story – this includes interviews with prosecutor Marcia Clarke and disgraced police witness Mark Fuhrman. The defence and the prosecution weigh in here in equal measure and with as much passion and ferocity as the first time. Admirably, this documentary keeps the victims at its heart with Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman never far from the viewer’s mind or conscience. The film is angry on behalf of them, their families and friends – as it should be. For a film to be verging on eight hours it must be able to justify its extreme length, proving that all footage is essential and not simply over-indulgent. Edelman’s expertly paced and meticulously thought-out documentary does exactly that; justifying itself with its rewarding study of a man who divided and deceived so many. It grows richer as it progresses and successfully shocks and engages without ever exploiting the gruesome and desperately tragic events at its core. Exposing the corruption and elitism that comes with power in regards to both an individual celebrity and the L.A.P.D. throughout 20th century history, O.J.: Made in America is far much more than just the chronological story of one man and murderer.
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