Photo courtesy of FX
For those of us born into the Generation X bracket and prior, the early 90's taught us three things: Lorena Bobbitt actually made it into the dictionary with the term "bobbitt", Milli Vanilli was lip-syncing the entire darn time, and we will forever be wary of OJ's innocence in the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and friend Ronald Lyle Goldman.
A landmark case that dominated news and talk shows worldwide, the O.J. trial has been resuscitated by FX's biographical crime drama "American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ" to rave reviews. The series, which has been praised for its critical look at the most beloved "Trial of the Century", opens a Pandora's box of tidbits, either long-forgotten or unknown to most viewers.
Certain disturbing facts about the case roused emotions for many viewers on O.J.'s true involvement in the murders, and as the season screeches to a halt with the 10th episode upon us, we can see why the case had 95 million Americans tuning in to watch the verdict.
The story has relied on Jeffrey Toobin's book, The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, however the representation has been creatively "touched up" all in the spirit of drama. Delving behind the closed doors of the most publicized murder case in American history, the series provides a voyeuristic approach as it presents the details.
Orenthal James "O.J." Simpson and his legal dream team remain central as they bicker, quarrel, and claw over explanations and hidden truths that surround the murders. While O.J., played by Cuba Gooding Jr., may be the focus of the trial, the real crux of the show rests in the defence team and their internal struggles, both as a group and individually.
The casting for the defence team is just as high profile today as it was in the 90s, with John Travolta as Robert Shapiro; David Schwimmer taking on the role of O.J.'s best friend, lawyer Robert Kardashian; Courtney B. Vance as the outspoken Johnnie Cochran; and Evan Handler as Alan Dershowitz. While it can be debated, most of the acting applause falls in the hands of Vance and Schwimmer, who critics agree to have pointedly captured the essence of Cochran and Kardashian.
Vance, most known for his role as Assistant District Attorney Ron Carver in "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," has shown a new flex of his acting chops as he showboats his way across the courtrooms and cameras with signature flare. All the while, Schwimmer shows great capability of grasping the challenging role of Kardashian, the torn and troubled best friend of O.J.. The depth of his character can be amounted to the level of uncertainty he felt about O.J.'s innocence.
During an interview with Barbara Walters, Robert Kardashian mentioned his doubts on O.J.'s innocence due to "the blood evidence". The patriarch of the Kardashian clan, estimated at a net worth of $30 million by the time of his passing, is believed to have carried most of the emotional burden of the case as he pieced together O.J.'s scattered stories.
It is known that he also experienced personal detriment caused by the case, and eventually permanent loss of his life to cancer, a result that those closest to him attribute to the stress from the case. Strangely, Cochran also died of cancer within two years of Kardashian, but before his death in 2005, he admitted his true belief in O.J.'s case: "Of course he did it, but that doesn't matter, that's not my concern."
While Travolta may be the biggest name in the credits, his appearance as lead lawyer Shapiro has been considered hit and miss by reviewers. Some reviewers have stated that it can be difficult to disassociate from the fact that John Travolta is very "John Travolta" no matter what he tells us his name is.
On the dialogue and writing end, most agree that it is excellent, and the character design performs magically; although some reviewers have said that Cuba Gooding Jr's depiction of O.J. lacks the charm, energy, and smugness that was habitual of O.J. The series has done well to carry viewers in a suspenseful limbo, while creating a deeper level of connection to the characters and the situations as they unfold.
What probably makes this series a hard pill to swallow is hindsight. As we all comfortably watch from our sofas, O.J. is in prison, sentenced to 33 years in the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nevada for an unrelated robbery in 2007. He isn't far from a TV however, as he has commented indirectly on the series and also says he likes watching "Keeping Up With The Kardashians".
Regardless, it cannot be denied that O.J. is now seen as a villain -- once loved, then ultimately disliked, he was given a chance of freedom and redemption but passed it up. The series properly captures this tug-of-war of emotions, as the defence is seen scrambling to save a man who they themselves are quite unsure about.
A haunting tale of reality, The People repeats images and memories that time has muddled over the past 20+ years, and does not hesitate on exposing deeper facts that ultimately grip viewers. The cinematography is exceptional, compelling you to stay glued to the screen as the story delves into a more private perspective on the case. Filling in the gaps of confusion and perhaps even providing some closure to viewers seems a likely intention of the series, and while it definitely has done that and more, it is certain to have stirred skepticism within many who once have believed in O.J.'s innocence.
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