The Latter Trial of the Century with Problematic Casting Choice
The People v. O.J. Simpson is a docudrama about one of the most publicized murder cases of the 20th century. The O.J. case itself offered no ground-breaking change or in the American legal system, such as Gideon v Wainwright (1966) in which the court ruled that a defendant deserved professional representation irrelevant of the crime, regardless of the defendant's ability to pay for representation. The public fascination of the O.J. Simpson and its exposure of racial tensions was more closely aligned with the Charles Lindbergh Kidnapping case of the 1930's whose conviction of a German immigrant also exposed ethnic distrust.
The film stars Cuba Gooding as O.J. Simpson, and includes an outstanding supporting cast: John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian, Courtney B. Vance as Johnny Cochran, Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden, Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, and Bruce Greenwood as Gil Garcetti. The film brings us into the behind-the-scenes drama of this compelling episode in American legal theater. The film does an outstanding job of giving us, the audience, the juxtaposition between what was given to the American public and how the main players decided the material best to present to the press, the jury and the public at large. The film begins with footage from the Rodney King case and the ensuing race riots which erupted in Los Angels in the wake of the acquittal of law enforcement.
The main narrative begins with the violent barking of a dog which attracts the attention of some late-night joggers in an upscale area of Los Angeles, Brentwood. The dogs barking leads to the discovery of two dead bodies laying in the outside porch of a house on Bundy Drive. They were identified as Nicole Brown Simpson, the owner of the house, and another friend, Ronald Goldman. Detectives arrived to the scene and were eventually informed that Nicole was the ex-wife of American Football and film actor O.J. Simpson (Gooding), nicknamed "The Juice". Simpson was in Chicago but then took a red-eye flight back to Los Angeles to learn more about the death of his ex-wife.
Relatively quickly, a case is building against Simpson. His immediate friends and legal counsels, Robert Kardashian (Schwimmer) and Robert Shapiro (Travolta), begin to suspect that Los Angeles is planning to arrest and charge Simpson for the murders. They become the first of Simpson's legal "dream team" as it came to be called. On another front, we learn of an African-American attorney name of Johnny Cochran who had made a reputation for representing African-Americans against legal injustices. Cochran had also represented celebrities, notably Michael Jackson.
Cochran begins commenting on the O.J. Simpson case publicly, particularly on shows like "Larry King Live". Eventually, Cochran joins the team. The team at first is an odd mix of Kardashian, Shapiro and other white lawyers and assistants, and Cochran and his African-American lawyers and associates. The two sides seem at odds, and questions arise regarding who will represent Simpson as lead counsel. Simpson opts for Cochran to the dismay of the other white lawyers.
Down in Los Angeles, Marcia Clark (Paulson) is putting together their case against Simpson which appears to be iron-clad. She wants to be lead prosecutor and she polls some African-American women and the results suggest that a white prosecutor could win their sympathy against an alleged wife-beater. However, Gil Garcetti (Greenwood) feels the prosecution looks too "white". The trial will be held in downtown Los Angeles, and there would undoubtedly be African-American jurors. They find a solution: they ask Christopher Darden (Brown) to join the prosecution. The court appoints Judge Lance Ito to hear the case, a Japanese-American who, some speculate, was assigned because he was neither white nor black.
The trial begins, but something is not right with Mark Fuhrman (Steven Pasquale). He is brought into the trial because of a bloody glove he claims to have found on the O.J. Simpson property the night of the murders. However, through some investigative work, it is learned that Fuhrman is a racist and some new evidence emerges which proves it without a shadow of a doubt.
Definitely a compelling series from beginning to end. So why 9 stars out of 10? There is one miscast: Cuba Gooding as O.J. Simpson. I will preface this to say I am great admirer of Gooding who has had some terrific performances. However, he was not a good choice for O.J. Simpson. I think the problem is that Gooding, unlike O.J. has a very strong personality and a high-pitched tenor voice. O.J. has a softer but resonant baritone voice and in interviews he always came off as very calm and "comfortable" in his own "skin". Not that the O.J. behind the scenes couldn't be fiery, but Gooding is almost too fiery, with a lot of whining and nervous angst which happens all the way through the film. Sometimes I found Gooding a bit over-the-top.
Sadly, Gooding is just not a terribly convincing O.J. I felt like I kept seeing the actor rather than one of the biggest sports and media stars of all-time, and he comes off like he's still playing Rod Tidwell from "Jerry Maguire". Although they are both African-Americans, they really couldn't even pass as brothers, not even cousins. For one thing, Simpson would dwarf Gooding, and the former football star's head is rather ovular and nearly perfectly symmetrical while Gooding's is far more round and a little bit asymmetrical (not that one is better than the other). The issue is that we've seen O.J. so much, especially on television during the trial, that using an actor who physically bears almost no resemblance to the character he's playing can upset the production value. Certainly an A-, but not an A because of the miscast. Even Forest Whitaker would probably have been much closer to Simpson than Gooding. I saw too much of Gooding and not enough of Simpson.
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