How does one college football star come to represent the joys and hate of an entire nation? “O.J.: Made in America” paints a portrait of O.J. Simpson that is not only informative and contemplative, but tragic.
The documentary details O.J.’s rise from obscurity to college football superstardom and then his journey on to the NFL. From there, he becomes the main commercial tool for Hertz and a movie star. He marries a beautiful woman and has a family. Everything seems perfect, the realization of the American dream. And then it all falls apart. After his divorce, his wife and another man, Ron Goldman, are murdered. He is put on trial in a saga so enveloping it captures the attention of the entire nation, dividing white and black again. He is acquitted, but his image is forever tarnished. Doubts about his innocence become omnipresent and eventually he is put in prison for another crime. In a world that seemed to be edging closer and closer to a post-racial existence, O.J. comes to represent the failure of a nation to move past the wounds of slavery and discrimination.
With a runtime of nearly 8 hours, the five-part film is a saga of epic scope, an in-depth examination of a man and a time in history whose reverberations are still being felt today. There are dozens of interviews with friends, law enforcement, family and enemies, illustrating O.J.’s whole life, his mindset and how he came to symbolize so much hope and then so much sorrow. At every stage of his life in the film, there are moments of reflection, moments where the participants marvel at O.J.’s ability to charm and what he meant to them at that moment. And then comes the disbelief that such a promising man could fall through the influence of fame, self-importance and racial identity. Everyone worshipped O.J. in some way. He had been more than a black man or a football player or a movie star. He was an idol. And just as swiftly, the prejudices of the country swallowed him up.
Director Ezra Edelman frames the story as an American tragedy born right out of John Steinbeck and Theodore Dreiser, a tale of rags to riches that ends in heartbreak and disillusionment. Much like movie figures Charles Foster Kane and Michael Corleone, O.J.’s bright star burns bright and fades just as quickly, the glory of power and demand of ego destroying his life. The woes of American history can not so easily be overcome through sheer charm and willpower, and our hopes at a post-racial future still seem so far away. This is grand storytelling on an epic scale.