THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (NETFLIX) (2020)
SYNOPSIS: What was intended to be a peaceful protest at the 1968 Democratic National Convention turned into a violent clash with police and the National Guard. The organizers of the protest—including Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden and Bobby Seale—were charged with conspiracy to incite a riot and the trial that followed was one of the most notorious in history.
No one does a talky movie as well as Aaron Sorkin, the Oscar winning writer behind The West Wing, The Social Network and Steve Jobs. His sophomore directing effort no surprise is yet another talky movie, The Trial of the Chicago 7. A tumultuous project that was supposed to be directed by Steven Spielberg until he jumped ship to direct West Side Story. The drama doesn’t end here because Paramount Pictures sold the rights to Netflix months before it was due to release on the big screen.
After all, it’s not necessary a bad thing. At least more people has the chance to watch The Trial of the Chicago 7 on the streaming giant. Frankly, it wouldn’t last more than two weeks in the theatres given the seriousness of the subject matter. In fact, it’s best you do some homework before you attempt to watch it. Google perhaps?
The story in short is about a group of anti-Vietnam war protesters who are charged with the intention of inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The seven defendants include leaders of the Student of the Democratic Society: Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), founding member of the Yippies: Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), leader of the National Committee to End the War in Vietnam, David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch) and John Froines (Daniel Flaherty), Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins). There’s also an eighth defendant, Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), National Chairman of the Black Panther Party.
There’s a lot of information to digest and plenty of characters walking in and out of the screen in this ensemble legal drama so you need to really keep up with all the things that are going on after the opening logos. Besides the eight of them, there’s Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the main prosecutor of the case. William Kunstler (Mark Rylance), the Defence Counsel, Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) the honourable Judge and Ramsey Clark (Michael Keaton), ex-Attorney General of the United States. Each and every character listed here has an important role to play so you can probably imagine the amount of material Sorkin has to accumulate here to tell his story.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 paints a very grim picture of what actual democracy looks like in a so-called first world country. It’s also a provocative statement on police brutality and the ugliness of politics. Despite the 60’s setting, the messages remain well relevant to these days. The ongoing Hong Kong protests and civil unrest in the States for example. This is simply not just a dramatization of the trial or the legal implications that follows. This is a movie for audiences who are keen on past challenging events and the subsequent harrowing cause and effect.
Under Sorkin’s watchful eyes and powerful penning, there’s no particular cast member that shines. Not because it’s shabbily acted but rather, everyone in the picture is so brilliant in their own ways that you forgot you are actually watching actors liked Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Rylance doing their own interpretations of their real-life counterparts.
Sorkin never really focused the movie on the actual riots though there are a couple of flashback sequences that highlights the confrontation between the protesters, the police and national guards. Still, it’s more than sufficient to detail the hostility and prejudice faced by the protesters be it in the courtroom or out in the streets. The Trial of the Chicago 7 comes just in time for the upcoming US election. It’s a powerful, unnerving insight into the real world.
Review by Linus Tee