The People vs O.J. Simpson – A Review

The People vs O.J. Simpson – A Review

Aldo Gandia will occasionally step away from following football to look at movies and TV shows. When he finds something he thinks you might enjoy, he takes to his keyboard. In his mind, The People vs O.J. Simpson is worthy of your time.

News that ESPN’s upcoming 30 For 30 is a stunning look at the still fascinating O.J. Simpson murder trial has me cleaning out space in my DVR. Part One of the series premieres June 11, on ABC followed by additional installments on ESPN on June 14, 15, 17 and 18.

You’d think people would have their full of Simpson and one of the most spectacular crime trials in modern history, but clearly that’s not true. The resurgence in interest started with the FX network ten-part docudrama series, American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, which is based on the Jeffery Toobin book. 

FX is running a series every year with a focus on headline grabbing crime stories and their first was incredible. If you have not seen The People vs. O.J. Simpson set aside approximately eight hours for unregrettable binge watching TV. Amazon has the series for $3 an episode.

The series opens with the re-telling of the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots. O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend,  Ronald Goldman, were brutally murdered two years after the civil unrest in Los Angeles. The climate was still rife with racial tension. It’s also the first signal that the series will grapple with topics that are still germane today – racial divide, class and celebrity privilege, the affects an irresponsible media has on society, and more.

The series is loaded with heavyweight Hollywood talent. Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Jerry McGuire, As Good As It Gets) plays Simpson, John Travolta (Pulp Fiction, Saturday Night Fever), Courtney Vance (Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Terminator Genisys), and Nathan Lane (The Producers, Mousehunt)  portray attorneys Robert Shapiro, Johnny Cochran and F. Lee Bailey respectively – three members of the legal Dream Team Simpson’s millions afforded him. Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story, Game Change) plays lead prosecutor Marcia Clarke and Sterling K. Brown (Person of Interest, Our Idiot Brother) is the second lead attorney for the state, Christopher Darden.

This list barely covers the talent as even small roles are cast with superb actors – Nicole’s cocaine-loving friend, Faye Resnick, is played by Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights, Nashville), and her sister, Denise Brown, is portrayed by Jordana Brewster (The Fast and the Furious movies) to name just two.

I point out the scope of the story and acting talent to assure you that this series serves up plenty of smart writing and excellent performances.

Most of the characters are finely drawn with Clarke and Darden becoming the soul of the series. The female lead prosecutor took the case while going through a divorce and custody battle for her child. She was ridiculed by the media for her hairdo and seen by TV law pundits as shrill and mean. The emotional toll the trail took on her is etched more and more as the series goes on. Darden, a young attorney at the time, was seen by the black community as a sell out for trying to procecute Simpson. When confronted by neighbors, Darden reminds them that Simpson was never active in the African-American community and really didn’t consider himself black. The response to Darden, “He was chased by cops. He’s black now.” It’s a telling line. The case divided the country along racial lines. Black people wanted to see Simpson get off for a number of reasons, but none more resonant than they wanted to finally see a fellow black person beat the system that has so often beaten them. White people saw overwhelming evidence of a woman being physically abused and this new, complicated science, DNA, proving it had to be Simpson. And, of course, for some whites, Simpson was black and, therefore, he had to have done the crime.

Those are the people attorney Johnnie Cochran loved to expose. The flamboyant attorney was also the smartest man in the courthouse and Vance plays him to perfection. Cochran looked at the case through a racial prism and exploited the many racist aspects of the cases. He also had to out duel fellow attorney Robert Shapiro who immediately tried to plea bargain for his client convinced that Simpson had committed the crimes. The battles between the two heavyweight egos add more intrigue to the story.

Not all the characters were as richly drawn as those two. The great actor Robert Morse (Mad Men, A Guide for the Married Man) plays Dominick Dunne. To cast Morse as the  renowned investigative reporter and have him sit in the courtroom as, essentially, an extra is a waste. Another character deserving of more storytelling time is the male victim’s father, Fred Goldman, who harbored a hate towards his son’s alleged killer that was almost vicious and whose emotion at losing his boy was vivid.

The Simpson portrayal is on-point. All reports about the former star NFL running back paint him as someone with narcissistic tendencies and Gooding captures that quality. But, there’s a big problem with the casting of Gooding as OJ and it is size and looks. Simpson was 6’1″, 215 pounds with movie star good looks. Gooding is considerably shorter and almost 50 pounds lighter. His face is scrawled with contour lines that look like an NFL playbook. Simpson’s body and good looks made him a presence without saying a word. Gooding must speak to achieve that same dynamic.

Nonetheless, what is good is really really good. I’ve spoken with people of all ages who have seen the series and they all agree that it is enthralling.

If you’re young and unfamiliar with the O.J. Simpson case I implore you to watch the series, but know that the re-telling is not 100% accurate. Alterations were made to condense time and, more importantly, make valuable social comment. For instance, Kim Kardashian and her siblings are portrayed, as children, in a couple of episodes (attorney Robert Kardashian, played by David Schwimmer of Friends fame, was a close friend to Simpson), and while this clearly is an attempt to woo young audiences, it also serves to point out that the televised trial was, in essence, this country’s first reality TV-series.

The People vs OJ Simpson is the perfect pre-court hearing for O.J.: Made in America, the ABC-TV – ESPN 30 for 30 series  Those seven and a half hours, we are told by trustworthy people, are made with great care for historical truth. And, if you’re worried that watching so much OJ Simpson TV is bad for you it’s not. It’s the celebrity worship culture, racial divide, and the injustice system that is is bad for you.

 

 

 

 

Aldo Gandia

Aldo Gandia

Among my career highlights I have produced two films while in high school that received nationwide attention; leaned out of a helicopter over the Gulf of Suez at the age of 20 to shoot movies of oil rigs; won an Emmy award for a sports special and another for a kid's fitness show; and led a team of very talented creative professionals to produce break-through corporate communications.


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