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John Cassellis is the toughest TV-news reporter around. His area of interest is reporting about violence in the ghetto and racial tensions. But he discovers that his network helps the FBI by letting it look at his tapes to find suspects. When he protests, he is fired and goes to the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois. Written by
Narrative is weak and improvised but it is interesting, informative and still relevant today
John Cassellis is an investigative journalist for a TV news station, unafraid to go into the areas that others avoid. In the course of his work he gets involved in the black ghettos of Chicago and the racial tensions they hold. As he interviews his subjects, John is challenged by them as well forced to see what he is doing and why he is greeted with such hostility at times. When he finds that the station have been giving his tapes to the FBI to help them track down suspects he quits his job and tries to go alone, leading to his involvement in the Chicago riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention.
I only knew a little of this film when I came to watch it so little in fact that I didn't know if it was a docu-drama or a documentary. After a few minutes I realized that this was a docu-drama and by the end of the film I was left impressed by what the film had done, even if I wasn't totally impressed by the film as a whole. The plot, for what it's worth, follows Cassellis as he reports on tensions in Chicago and then gets personally involved as he gets to see more than just subjects and is forced to take a stand as his tapes are not used for impartial purposes. In terms of narrative the film is pretty messy the main characters aren't interesting and scenes where we are supposed to get to know them don't really work. At more than one point it seems to totally forget that it has characters and just wanders with the most basic of framework - and the ending is poor in terms of this story. However this film is not about John Cassellis as a character in a story it is about a cameraman's conscience, it is about comment and as such it is very interesting and really captures the period while making some very good points in a very even handed manner.
The film opens really well with a group of journalists discussing their role and in a way this is what the film is about. It is actually moments like the opening that are the best for me the standout scene was where Cassellis is not allowed to leave a flat full of black people and is forced to not only listen to them but hear them as well. In these moments the film is great totally of it's time and with a lot to say that is still relevant today. However at times this isn't as good as much as it is interesting and the ending is far, far too obvious and lazy and does an injustice to the intelligence of what has gone before.
Because the narrative is pretty weak the cast have very little to really work with and are caught up in the film (much as Wexler was caught up in real events). Having said that Forster gives a very good performance and it's not his fault that the film's aspirations leave him behind. The rest of the cast are OK and throw up a few faces including Boyle and Wexler himself but generally the focus is Forster at first and then later the setting of the period.
Overall this is a good film and one that is worth seeing, however if you expect it to be a traditional narrative then you will be disappointed. Instead watch it with an understanding of the period and the tensions/fears in America at the time as well as plenty of interesting points and ideas. On top of this film I heartedly recommend that you find and watch the 'making of' documentary called 'Watch Out Haskell it's Real!' as it really does a great job of fleshing out not only the period but also the characters and their story lines.
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