Title: The Trial of the Chicago 7
Director: Aaron Sorkin.
Genre: Drama, History, Comedy.
Main Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Yahya Abdul-Mateen III, Jeremy Strong, Frank Langella, Joseph Gordon Levitt.
Runtime: 129 mins.
MDb rating: 7.9/10.
My rating: 8.5/10.
Quick summary: Riots spread across the city of Chicago at a Democratic convention in 1968. The following year, seven peaceful protestors and the chairman of the Black Panthers are standing trial for ‘inciting violence by crossing state lines’. Is there truth to the case or are the Government simply trying to pin the blame on someone else?
We all love a good courtroom drama, don’t we? The back and forth between the prosecution and the defence grips our attention as they trade witty barbs. The star lawyers push the boundaries set in place by a judge who struggles to hide their true feelings on the case. Add in a true story and you have me hooked! You don’t have to be totally accurate to the truth, either. I didn’t know this was a real story until I watched the trailer so I believe you, oh mighty director.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 has all of this in spades. The story is set up through a fast-paced montage showing some of our main character’s reasons for travelling to Chicago in 1968. We are introduced to Tom Hayden (Redmayne), Abbie Hoffman (Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Strong) and Bobby Seale (Abdul-Mateen). Hayden, Hoffman and Rubin are travelling with the intent to protest the ongoing war in Vietnam. There are obviously four other protestors on trial during the film but these three are the main focus of the proceedings. Bobby Seale is the chairman of the Black Panthers and has no intention of protesting any war. He just wants to ‘be in the thick of it’, and that is his only crime.
We then jump forward a year to the prosecution of these men for inciting violence by crossing state lines. They are accused of using the protests to promote attacks against the Chicago Police Department after riots break out across the city on one night of demonstrating. The story is then told through flashbacks and witness testimony.
I am not a modern American history buff by any means. I studied history in secondary school/high school but I didn’t know about the 1968 riots. The combination of interesting subject matter and Aaron Sorkin’s storytelling made this a brilliant watch. My brother turned to us at one stage and said that he could watch it all night. I 100% agree. If they dramatised the whole trial and livestreamed it with the same cast I would probably tune in for long periods at a time.
There are some wonderful individual performances in this movie. Sacha Baron Cohen proves once again that he should be taken seriously no matter what genre he is starring in. He is probably the best thing about this movie, playing the charismatic, pot-smoking and extremely intelligent Hoffman.
Eddie Redmayne plays the polar opposite Tom Hayden, a student leader who has no time for Hoffman’s tendency to joke around.
Mark Rylance, Jeremy Strong, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and John Carroll Lynch also manage to shine in this ensemble piece.
Joseph-Gordon Levitt plays the lead prosecutor. I wasn’t impressed by his performance at all. I feel that like his last role in Project Power alongside Jamie Foxx, this was phoned in. His symbolic show of standing with the defendants even though he had just succeeded in getting them five years in a federal penitentiary each was cringeworthy. Is that Levitt’s fault? No, of course not, but his delivery of the embarrassing line was woeful which makes it worse.
The most believable performance came from Frank Langella. The veteran actor plays the clearly biased Judge Hoffman. His insistence on disrupting the defence’s attempts to plead their case and his despicable treatment of Bobby Seale was enough to make me feel a well of anger rise up in my stomach. Frank Langella, who I’m sure is a lovely man, is now my enemy.
This film, while enjoyable, should make the viewer angry. Dealing with topics such as riots, suppression, oppression and racism from the late ’60s is different now. It is no longer just a chapter in a history book or a sub genre of films. It is happening on the streets of America right now. George Floyd lost his life because the lessons that were apparently learned over the last fifty years especially have been diluted and forgotten.
The scene where the police take their badges and name badges off so that they can safely beat the crap out of Hayden and co. should make the viewer think about videos on Twitter of police deliberately initiating violence with peaceful protestors earlier this year. Sorkin might not have had this social commentary in mind when he made the film but that’s the best thing about movies. Each viewer can take something different from each story. For me, it looks like not much has changed.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is streaming on Netflix now!