But for a story following the chaos and circus-like atmosphere of the 1968 protests and the ensuing trial of eight of the protestors, such a steady, grave style would clearly be inappropriate.
Chicago 10: Speak Your Peace defies the Ken Burns documentary orthodoxy. Instead it relies almost entirely on archival footage of protests and rallies and -- get this -- an animated adaptation of the court case.
The sequences are rotoscoped (a technique also used in A Scanner Darkly) in which animation is painted on top of live action. The result is oddly twitchy. In Scanner, which was supposed to be weird and trippy, it works. But in Chicago 10 it just looks weird. (Entertaining, but weird.)
Maybe that was intended. The trial was surreal, with the defendants peppering the proceedings with stunts and smart-ass disruptions.
The result could have been a fascinating examination into the subtle strengths and character flaws of both sides. Instead, Chicago 10 settles for cardboard cutouts. The prosecuting attorney (Nick Nolte) speaks in a villainous growl while the voice of the judge (Roy Schneider) toggles between Emperor Palpatine mode and Droopy Dog mode.
The result is that Chicago 10's historical cartoon segments seem more cartoonish than historical. The movie's at its best when it drops its animated gimmick, in favor of the often shocking archival footage. Unfortunately, its montages of protest montages drag on far too long. You can only see so many batons crack so many skulls, so many spurts of tear gas and pepper spray, so many screams and chants of "fascism" before the whole thing blends together into white noise. The protest scenes eventually fade into mere ambience -- dampening the excitement of the culture clash.
Chicago 10 is great at providing fascinating if broad impressions, but it never takes time to examine the nuance behind the blusters or the real characters behind the caricatures. (Rated R)