Review: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Aaron Sorkin’s learning curve

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO-7.CastI became totally caught up in the movie The Trial of the Chicago 7, which I saw on Netflix. The time period in which it took place corresponded with my political awakening, so I was certainly a “market” for the film.

For those who didn’t know, there was violence between the police and Vietnam war demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August 1968. The Justice Department under President Lyndon Johnson declined to press federal charges against the protestors, although there were local charges. But after Richard Nixon was inaugurated, Justice, under John Mitchell decided to prosecute eight men.

They (and the people who played them in the film) included Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), from the Students for a Democratic Society. Also, Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Alex Sharp), founders of the Youth International Party, or Yippies. Plus the pacifist David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), leader of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE); Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), and John Froines (Daniel Flaherty).

Wait, that’s seven. Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) was the national chairman of the Black Panther Party. “Seale’s attorney, Charles Garry, cannot attend due to illness, leading Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella), [no relation to Abbie] to insist that William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) represents all eight defendants. This insistence is rejected repeatedly by both Kunstler and Seale.” Eventually, Seale’s trial is severed from the others’.

A long path

I did not know this. “Aaron Sorkin stated… that he first found out about the planned film during a visit to Steven Spielberg’s home in 2006… Spielberg told him “he wanted to make a movie about the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention and the trial that followed.” Aaron, who was born in 1961, had no idea what Steven was talking about.

Sorkin wrote the script in July 2007, but the making of the film was delayed numerous times. He noted, “Spielberg saw Molly’s Game and was sufficiently pleased [with Sorkin’s directing] to suggest I direct ‘Chicago 7’… At his rallies, (Donald) Trump started being nostalgic about the good old days beating up protestors and the movie became relevant again,” with the Black Lives Matter protests.

Praiseworthy

The Trial of the Chicago 7 was nominated for several awards, especially for Sorkin and Sacha Barron Cohen. On Rotten Tomatoes, “the film holds an approval rating of 90% based on 305 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The website’s critics’ consensus reads, ‘An actors’ showcase enlivened by its topical fact-based story, [it] plays squarely – and compellingly – to Aaron Sorkin’s strengths.”

I fully admit that I totally surrendered to the film, which showed the antiwar movement was not a monolith. It could be funny, shocking, and ultimately moving. This was a function of Sorkin’s use of language, as is his wont. Plus this was a fine ensemble, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Richard Schultz, assistant federal prosecutor, and the various actors who played the cops infiltrating the demonstrations. I’m a sucker for a good courtroom drama.

Yet I do understand the frustration some critics have, unhappy that Sorkin played fast and loose with the timeline and certain facts. I’ve even soured on certain movies – the climax of Bohemian Rhapsody, for instance – myself.

John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter writes, “Sorkin has made a movie that’s gripping, illuminating and trenchant […] It’s as much about the constitutional American right to protest as it is about justice, which makes it incredibly relevant to where we are today.”