Movie Magazine International

Conspiracy: The Trial Of The Chicago 8

USA - 1987

Movie Review By Monica Sullivan

I wanted to admire Vincent D'Onofrio as Abbie Hoffman in "Steal This Movie", but the fact is I didn't. Once again, Janeane Garafalo as Abbie's much put upon wife stole every scene, including the ones that were presumably nailed down. Garafalo works from the inside out, ALWAYS, D'Onofrio mostly works from the outside in with a few shining exceptions: the garage mechanic in "Adventures In Babysitting," the constantly stoned Donny in "Stuart Saves His Family" & the befuddled Orson Welles, forced to cast Charlton Heston in "Touch Of Evil" as a Mexican, & so he commiserates at a bar as an equal with Johnny Depp's "Ed Wood." In general, the higher the stakes in a project, the less likely it is that D'Onofrio will dig down in his soul for some meaningful scrap of shared humanity with a character.

A project that caught the essence of Abbie Hoffman & the rest of his co-defendants is 1987's "Conspiracy: The Trial Of The Chicago 8," directed by Jeremy Paul Kagan. Produced at a time when many of the participants were alive & well & could meet the actors who portrayed them, "Conspiracy" relies heavily on sworn testimony, archival footage & updated commentary from the actual historical characters at the trial. It also features terrible wigs & glued-on beards, but no one wanted to be seen in public like that in the late eighties. Michael (son of Harvey) Lembeck is a charismatic & funny Abbie Hoffman, constantly moving around, addressing the judge as he would a cranky uncle & you could see how this lovable jester was so good & so necessary for the fledgling Youth International Party. Barry Miller, on the other hand, is whiney & obnoxious as Jerry Rubin. Whatever idealistic streak he possesses appears to be untested. Robert Carradine, taking a break from his "Revenge Of The Nerds" movies, is articulate & sincere as Rennie Davis, & Carl Lumbly, who would go on to play Congressman Ron Dellums with humor & grace, is a passionate Bobby Seale, even when Judge Julius Hoffman orders him to be restrained like a mummy.

Judge Hoffman is a tricky role to play. He's spent all of his judicial career trying to do right & play fair & now he's surrounded by pranksters who make fun of him & push every one of his buttons. He's way out of his league, but David Opatashu does a splendid job revealing his strained efforts to stay in the game. Robert Loggia, as always, is a charismatic & forceful presence as William Kunstler, & Elliott Gould, a contemporary of the Chicago 8, doesn't look a day older than the goofy schlemiels he played in the late 1960's. He plays Leonard Weinglass. Also worth a mention are the performances of Peter Boyle as David Dellinger, Ron Rifkin as Allen Ginsberg, Harris Yulin as Thomas Foran & Martin Sheen, Carolyn Seymour & 21-year- old Billy Zane as three of the more memorable witnesses. Best of all, when the re-enactment is over, the real Chicago 8 hug the cast with a warm affection that would have been impossible by 1989. In the spring of that year, Abbie Hoffman died, an apparent suicide at age 52. In the fall of 1994, stockbroker Jerry Rubin, 56, was killed while jay walking. William Kunstler was 76 when he died in the summer of 1995. Allen Ginsberg was 70 when he died in the spring of 1997. Tom Hayden was granted his wish of fatherhood & was able to see his son Troy Garity play young Tom Hayden in the D'Onofrio film. And Bobby Seale still writes & lectures at the age of 64. The Chicago 8 may not have been able to agree on lunch or even the language of their convictions, but they made the whole world watch & listen one hot summer in Chicago.

© 2001 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 3/21/01

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