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.”

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

5 thoughts on “Review: The Trial of the Chicago 7”

  1. Hi Roger,

    I saw the movie when it first came out on Netflix. The film really did capture the thinking and emotions of that period. Back in those days I was a very active anti-war type in college. I was very active in movements including the student mobilization committee and SDS. Even before the convention I was aware of all the participants and their biographies in the trial. After viewing the movie I thought historically it was pretty accurate. It is hard to re-create history after 50 years when a few of the characters are no longer with us.I particularly liked the way the movie “the thought that the participants were caught up in a righteous cause much larger than themselves.

    The movie mentally put me right back into 1968. I remember my thoughts and actions from that time. I would be happy to tell you about some of the stories but I think the statute of limitations might not apply to them.

    Peace,
    Walter

  2. In a recent Netflix interview, Sorkin called the film a “loveletter to political protest.” It is that and a great one; that it’s not an accurate recreation of the trial is true. in a lot of important ways, it’s not even close. If someone wants to see a much more accurate film, which includes the comments of the actual defendants, I’d highly recommend Jeremy Kagan’s film, “Conspiracy.” It’s terrific. So is Sorkin’s but in a much different way.

    As an aside, Lee Weiner is close friend. He loved the movie.

  3. I have (mostly) made peace with the biopic as a film subgenre. It doesn’t have to be factual to be true.

  4. Loved it as a piece of smart film-making, with a great script, and great performances.

    We then watched “Judas and the Black Messiah” a few nights later, which was a stupendous pairing.

    One thing that really hit me about “Chicago 7:” I had always sort of mentally envisioned that the events of the ’68 convention would have been at one of the big event or convention centers that exist there now . . . but it was actually at a hotel that was near where we lived for four years, and the “battles” that took place were in places that I walked on a weekly, if not near-daily, basis, so it was really resonant to me to think about my former neighborhood as the site of those historic and tragic events . . . based on release dates and familiar scenes, I am thinking that had we stayed in Chicago for an additional three months, we would have been able to sit on our balcony and watch this film being made.

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