In Reviews

September 25th, 2020




“The whole world is watching!” This is the chant, reverberating across the room from protestors in Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7. And hopefully, this is the movie the whole world will be watching when it arrives on Netflix October 16th. In 1968, various political groups, protesting the war in Vietnam, convened on the lawns of Grant Park in Chicago, all with the hope of their voices being heard at the Democratic National Convention. The result was a clash of violence, with protesters and police finding themselves face to face, fighting, leaving people bloody and beaten. As soon as Richard Nixon was sworn in the following year, Tricky Dick’s justice department looked to make an example of those protesting the war, and the hammer was criminal charges to these seven men. There may not be a better time for a movie of this magnitude, with an eerie reflection of our current political climate, done in a full Aaron Sorkin fashion, where the writer/director’s dialogue sings to the audience. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a courtroom procedural, but it’s much more than that. It’s a look at a corrupt criminal justice system, the conflicting fight for change, the men and women who stood up for the freedoms allowed to us in the constitution, and the battles that American’s still fight today. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the perfect film of yesterday, today, and of the future.

It may be an indicator of the awards season to come, but the films that compare in style and theatrics with The Trial of the Chicago 7 are all best picture winners, such as Argo and Spotlight. Those comparisons are rightfully made. This is a glossy, polished picture, filled to the brim with well-known actors, and the narrative balances these attributes nicely. The center of the story is a highly contentious trial, between 8 men (eventually reduced to 7), versus the Illinois Attorney General and Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon -Levitt ) of the Southern District of Illinois. Those being made an example of are a selected collection of protestors, such as Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), the leader of a left-wing group for social change, and Abbie Hoffman (an often scene stealing Sacha Baron Cohen) an outspoken, often poking, leader of the “Yippies” group. Once the charges are levied, The Trial of the Chicago 7 shifts between the events leading to every decision and the unfair battle for these men to win their freedom.

One of the glaring realities of The Trial of the Chicago 7 is that this is a moment in Chicago history seldom talked about. I’ve lived in this city nearly my whole life and this story seemed foreign to me. Not foreign to the privilege I’ve had, compared to the people involved in this moment, but foreign to the knowledge. The shocking part is not just how sugar coated or erased moments like this are, but the way the trial would go for the eighth man charged- Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdull-Mateen II). With the racist, angry, and mentally deteriorating judge Julius Hoffman (a contentious Frank Langella) presiding over the case, Bobby is never given right to his council, and that’s just the tip of the painful mistreatment towards him from courtroom police, including a traumatic and shocking scene where Seale is grossly restrained. Outside of that horrific part of the narrative, Sorkin is casting a wide net for showing off his style, but in the moments with Bobby Seale the point is to show how this country has always been conducting two different rule books for white or Black people everywhere. As impactful as those moments are, everything that follows adds more to the fire, bouncing back between the facts, and the courtroom drama, playing out in A Few Good Men Style theatrics.

If there are complaints to have about The Trial of the Chicago 7 are the lame, uplifting cinematic moments (plenty of crowds standing and clapping), and how it does not cover all the communities affected in this moment, specifically Black communities, women, and the police officers on the other side. Those issues don’t detract from the drama however. This is an incredibly engaging story, with pristine sets, costumes, and cinematography by Phedon Papamichael. It’s filled with the rich Sorkin conversations that hold on to our attention and never let go. It helps that Sorkin has a trio of actors delivering top notch work. Redmayne, who surprises with an accent he’s never shown before, is breaking out of his shell. Sacha Baron Cohen brings a beautiful mixture of levity, and honesty to his role. The best performance, however, goes to Mark Rylance as defense lawyer Mark Kunstler, he’s someone that has the character actor charisma that you never see coming. Those three, and the rest of the collective cast, spearhead an excellent ensemble piece.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is almost too good to be true. It arrives during a moment where protests take to the streets, with the American people demanding justice given to all of us, no matter culture, creed, color, or religion. The sad reality is that people still need to fight for these rights that are allowed to all of us. The wheel of time seems to be going in circles, like a tire stuck in the mud. The Trial of the Chicago 7 reminds us how far we think we have come in our progress, in a dazzling Aaron Sorkin fashion, only to discover that we may not have come far at all. We need change to happen, somehow, someway. The whole world is watching. Just don’t close your eyes.



Written by: Leo Brady

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