Twenty-one years after the trial that captured the nation, the trial of football player O.J. Simpson for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, the story of the Simpson trial still intrigues the nation, including Ryan Murphy of American Horror Story and FEUD fame. Murphy took this sensational point of American history and applied it to the first season of anthology series An American Crime Story. How does it fare as a representation of the past and a beginning to a new series?
The People vs. OJ Simpson chronicles aftermath the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, beginning with O.J. Simpson’s (Cuba Gooding Jr.) arrest. From there, the trial is set and progresses with the prosecution, helmed by Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) and Chris Darden (Sterling K. Brown) and the defense, led by Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance), Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer), Robert Shapiro (John Travolta), and F. Lee. Bailey (Nathan Lane). The show spotlights members of both sides and the impact of the case on these people’s lives.
The O.J. Simpson trial was going on the year I was born. While I watched this, I felt a distance that I imagine kids born after 9/11 feel. I would constantly remark at how insane some of the things that happened were. From that standpoint you begin to feel sucked into the trial and eventually pick your side. The People vs. OJ does an excellent job of balancing the defense and the prosecution, allowing for the audience to make their own judgements on the case. For me, the two strongest elements of the Emmy winning series are the acting and the cinematography, specifically the camera movement.
ACTING: Murphy brings a star studded cast who fires on all cylinders. The acting carries this story. The People vs. OJ takes its time to develop the members of the defense and the prosecution. You really get a sense of what the people in this situation believe. My favorite performances were Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark and David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian. Her performance details the difficulty of the Simpson trial on her both mentally and emotionally. In the episode, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” it reaches its peak, chronicling the real attorney’s struggles with sexism and the media.
While I found myself siding with the prosecution, I did find the defense, dubbed the “dream team” by the media to be compelling. Watching these large egos clash and come together to prevent Simpson from experiencing jail time was fascinating. I felt the most for Robert Kardashian. A lawyer who was close with Simpson, it was very emotional to watch him throughout the trial. No words were uttered, but the doubt was clearly expressed in his eyes. It was very well done and made me empathize with him.
CINEMATOGRAPHY: While acting and directing are very important, it is often the unnoticed technical details that help to generate the biggest responses. As I watched this series unfold, I noticed a distinct use of camera movement. Murphy would take moments that could easily shot on a tripod and use movement. It gives a frenetic feeling and an intensity. It also underscored key moments with speedy track ins that gave the declarations from the dueling attorneys more force and gives the whole trial a frenetic feeling. You really begin to feel on edge as the trial progresses and the answers become murkier and murkier. When the show had a lull, I would watch the camera movement. When checking this series out, keep an eye out for the camera movement.
The People vs. OJ Simpson: An American Crime Story is another look into the infamous trial and the lives of the people that surround it. It is a relatively objective view into the case, presenting the defense, the prosecution, and even a glimpse into the jury. The show is poignant to our own time, drawing eerie similarities to the past. It addresses racism and sexism that both sides experience and paints a picture of a country during the 1990’s and the mindset of the nation. This drama relies heavily on its performers, who do an excellent job and keep you captivated in the legal chess match that is the OJ Simpson trial. I give The People vs. OJ Simpson an A.
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