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'City So Real' tries to get past the headlines with a deep but scattered portrait of Chicago

October 29, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

Filmmaker Steve James seeks to capture the Windy City's complexity in "City So Real," a five-part documentary that proves richly detailed but a bit too messy, pulling in disparate stories and characters at the expense of a cohesive picture.

(CNN)Chicago is a big, wonderful mess of a city, one that President Trump has turned into a political punching bag amid his "law and order" campaign cries.

Filmmaker Steve James seeks to capture the Windy City's complexity in "City So Real," a five-part documentary that proves richly detailed but a bit too messy, pulling in disparate stories and characters at the expense of a cohesive picture.

Before it's over, Lori Lightfoot has emerged from a sprawling field of 21 contenders as the new mayor, and Covid-19 has reared its ugly head, adding another dimension to the city's already chaotic backdrop.

In addition to following the dizzying roster of candidates initially running for mayor, that includes flaring out into the neighborhoods, presenting Chicago's ethnic and racial diversity and a wide variety of voices, among them older Whites griping about the unrest and damage done amid the protests.

As the Chicago Tribune reported, James actually completed the film early this year, going back to do more reporting to reflect coronavirus' impact on the city and Lightfoot's administration.

"City So Real" seeks to present "the soul of a quintessentially American city," getting beyond the gun-violence headlines and political caricaturing of the town to celebrate its people and personality.

In an unorthodox scheduling move, Nat Geo will air all five-plus hours of "City So Real" on the cable network in a one-night, commercial-free presentation before the project lands on Hulu, a sister Disney asset.

Chicago might be known as the City of the Broad Shoulders, but they're not broad enough, it turns out, to completely support a documentary that, despite powerful moments, feels this scattered.

"City So Real" premieres Oct. 29 at 7 p. m. ET on National Geographic, and Oct. 30 on Hulu.

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