At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, riots erupted when thousands of anti-Vietnam War protestors clashed with police. Seeking to crush the energetic counterculture, the US government put on trial a group of eight defendants, some political organisers, some cultural radicals, some with hardly any influence, a pacifist, and a Black Panther, hoping to convict them for conspiracy to incite the riots. Aaron Sorkin’s writing is a good fit for this story, the disparate group of defendants arguing amongst themselves sharply, and many scenes flowing beautifully towards their own internal climaxes; the same cannot be said of his direction, the film lacking much visual flair and instinct for expressive imagery.
We revisit our common theme of British actors playing Americans, José finding more fault with it here than Mike does – we can, at least, agree that Sacha Baron Cohen’s accent is atrocious, his Abbie Hoffman a weak point. Mike expounds upon how much he hates himself for how much he likes Sorkin’s HBO drama The Newsroom, comfort food for the American left, which he sees echoes of here.
We find flaw upon flaw with The Trial of the Chicago 7, but despite every one of them, it’s an immensely watchable film with a terrific ensemble cast and entertaining dialogue. With an awareness of its limitations and economy with the truth, we recommend it.
The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.
With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.
Grace of Monaco is the kind of movie where the star wears a billowing ballgown, races frantically through endless palace corridors and jumps into a huge bed …. to weep. Life is so very difficile; even when Maria Callas (Paz Vega) — wearing a fabulous Jeanne Toussaint panther ring — is your bestie, warbles beautifully,and goes horseback riding with you as a show of support. Luckily there’s a ball at the end so that jewels, gowns and seating arrangements can play their role in simultaneously resolving affairs of state and of the heart.
Nicole Kidman gets an endless amount of close-ups, some so extreme that her earrings are out of focus. The whole film is designed so we can see her be beautiful and suffer nobly while she learns to say goodbye to Hollywood and all the fun of the movie star life and hello to politics, duty, and sacrifice in her new role as Princess of Monaco. Callas’ drive for artistic expression above all else is contrasted with Grace’s willingness to sacrifice art for family and country. Lubtisch was already sending up this type of material a hundred years ago. One looks on the screen in a daze that might might have been caused by the diamonds display but is more accurately attributed to the drivel that is the story and its treatment.
Derek Jacobi is the fey and worldly aristocrat who teaches Grace protocol. Frank Langella is, I kid you not, Father Tuck, guardian of Grace’s soul. Tim Roth is Prince Rainier, the unappreciative husband; and first glowers at Grace but then ends up giving her warm glow due to her great diplomatic skills and even greater love for the nuclear family. Grace learns how to act serenity whilst dealing with palace intrigue and other people’s selfishness. At the end Grace is so good at her new role that she gets a standing ovation for her efforts; even old grouch De Gaulle is moved to stand. It’s pure trash, very demodée but lovely to look at.
The film does have an interesting exploration on the nature of acting and performance, in life and in art. Some scenes of Nicole Kidman rehearsing her lines and her expressions would rival De Niro’s ‘Are You Looking At Me’ scene in Taxi Driver if only the film were better. As it is, I can’t in good faith recommend it to anyone except lovers of fine jewellery. However, I must say that if you put aside all considerations of film art and are happy to look at glossy layouts in fashion magazines, a boxed set with Madonna’s W.E., the Naomi Watts Diana and this Grace of Monaco would make for one glamorous binge.