REVIEW: O. J.: Made in America (2016 – Documentary)

Release Poster - ESPN Films

Release Poster – ESPN Films

The following is a review of O. J.: Made in America – Directed by Ezra Edelman

Orenthal James Simpson – a USC Trojans legend, Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee, movie star, and a convicted felon. In 1985, 5-time Pro Bowl and 1-time NFL MVP O. J. Simpson, a former running back for the Buffalo Bills and the San Francisco 49ers, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He had become an actor, and in a few years he would become a movie star with the popular The Naked Gun movie series. Ten years later, in 1995, Simpson was acquitted of the murders of his ex-wife and her friend. O. J.: Made in America tells the story of O. J. Simpson’s tumultuous life leading up to his imprisonment after an armed robbery in Las Vegas in 2008.

I was born in 1993 and grew up with no knowledge of O. J. Simpson. When I, many years later, got interested in the NFL I became aware of O. J. Simpson, but his name was little more than another blip on my radar. I knew what crime he was acquitted of, and I understood it. Or so I thought.

“I’m not black. I’m O. J..”

I just finished watching O. J.: Made in America (which was recently made available for a limited time in the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s online library), and I’m extremely impressed. It is truly an eyeopening documentary that revealed every bit of information. Every inch of O. J. Simpson’s life is covered. It is a stunning rise-and-fall documentary detailing the rise of an American hero who had said goodbye to his background, and been accepted by the white Hollywood elite.

“Very few human beings fall as far as O. J. Simpson.”

This portrait of an American hero gone bad is painted with a wide variety of different brushes: Sports, celebrity, race, riots, civil rights movements, tragedy and sin. This could’ve led to a muddled or unfocused documentary, but that is the antithesis of what O. J.: Made in America is. This is a sublime, thorough, and important documentary.

While there certainly were times when I was unsure of what conclusions the documentarians were trying to draw with lengthy sections about riots and race, I have to admit that that confusion probably stemmed from my lack of knowledge about O. J. Simpson. And while I did jot down in my notes that these sections were problematic, the documentary eventually managed to get the filmmakers’ points across, thus negating my issue with the documentary.

Therefore the only issue that I am left with is more of a nitpick. I was pleasantly surprised by how little the documentary mentioned or discussed the Kardashian-Simpson connection. We often see Robert Kardashian, but the documentarians resisted the urge to use even a small section of the almost eight-hour long documentary on the very famous Kardashian daughters.

That would’ve been an easy way to get ‘more eyes’ on your documentary, but all we get is one scene towards the end of the film, where Thomas Riccio reveals that O. J. saw Kim Kardashian on television talking about Keeping up with the Kardashians on the night of his Las Vegas arrest. O. J. even, supposedly, made a prediction about how long the show would last. It’s a tiny scene that probably won’t bother anyone else, but it stood out in a bad way, to me. It was unnecessary and it is the only part of the very, very long documentary that I would’ve left on the cutting room floor.

I wasn’t exactly dreading the experience of watching a documentary that would take me close to eight hours to finish, but the runtime was daunting. O. J.: Made in America should be a chore to watch, but it really isn’t. I was never bored while watching it. It is a perfectly entertaining, captivating, and heartbreaking documentary. If there were more hours in the day, I would’ve watched it in one sitting.

Which brings me to the discussion that everyone has had. Is O. J.: Made in America a film or a mini-series? I even had this discussion with people before I had seen the film. Though primarily released in the form of a mini-series, it was originally released in select theaters at festivals. With the way the documentary has been released, the only conclusion I’ve come to is that I’m not sure it has to be one or the other. But I digress.

O. J.: Made in America is a modern documentary masterpiece that details the peak of the infotainment era, the rise of a role model, the loss of racial identity, and a star’s tragic and sinful fall from grace. It is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen.

10 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex

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