Review: The Trial of the Chicago 7


The 1968 chaotic August Democratic Convention was covered for CBS by famed journalist, Dan Rather, who was punched in the gut and assaulted by guards as he was trying to interview a convention delegate.

The Vietnam War was raging, President Johnson had declined to run for a second term, and Robert Kennedy, running for the Democratic nomination, had been assassinated two months earlier. Eugene McCarthy was the peace candidate and Hubert Humphrey was regarded as an extension of the hated Johnson. However, Humphrey, who had not entered any of the thirteen state primary elections, was frustratingly supported by entrenched party bosses as the nominee at the Democratic Convention.

Peace activists could not accept this. As the Chicago Convention was ramping up, seven guys decided to lead a protest at the convention. They ended up being called The Chicago 7: Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines and Lee Weiner.

Aaron Sorkin, one of the most brilliant screenwriters of our generation, renders a glimpse of how close a protest 53 years ago parallels the BLM summer of 2020. It’s about what happens when people take to the streets to march for justice and change in intransient US policy.

Sorkin showcases the egregious Judge Julius Hoffman, wonderfully played by Frank Langella, as a massively biased, crazed, unethical magistrate. At one point, he asked the court reporter to note he was not related to Abbie Hoffman, at which point the long-haired Hoffman defendant mockingly calls out, “Father, no!”

Sorkin adeptly reveals the capricious power plays costing American lives and strangling ideals of democracy. When truth speaks, as in former Attorney General Ramsey Clark (perfectly personified by Michael Keaton), it is threatened and muzzled.

Sorkin, in capturing the worst of America, also vindicates and elevates the heroes of conscience who, at their most foundational level, were the ones representing the American public and their grief over the thousands of young people being killed daily in the Vietnam War.

Evoking emotion at the end of the film, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” could have been the second-best film of 2020 (“The Black Emperor of Broadway” is the first) until research indicated an unresolvable discrepancy.

David Dellinger (superbly played by John Carrol Lynch), the oldest of the seven, was robbed, though posthumously, of a tremendous act of courage and initiative. The Chicago protest had, in essence, been a response to the travesty of the Vietnam War. But it was Dellinger, not Tom Hayden, as Sorkin has depicted in his final climatic scene, who, on Oct. 15, 1969, commemorated The Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, by interrupting the court trial in an attempt to read the list of the thousands of soldiers who had died since the trial had begun. This unneeded deviation from history cost the film some respect. The truth was good enough.

However, Sorkin’s overarching democratic themes of social and political justice ring true and inspire. In a strange year of closed theaters, political mayhem, and calls for social reform, “The Chicago 7” is a thought-provoking testament to the heroes of the past and the present.

Ranking: 9/10

Director: Aaron Sorkin
Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin
Production companies: Amblin Entertainment, Marc E. Platt, DreamWorks Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Cross Creek Pictures
Producers: Marc E. Platt, Stuart M. Besser, Tyler Thompson, Matt Jackson and over 35 others
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Kevitt, Ben Shenkman, JC MacKenzie, Frank Langella, John Doman, Michael Keaton and others
Music: Daniel Pemberton
Director of Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael
Editing: Alan Baumgarten
Casting: Francine Maisler

Release Date: 16 Oct. 2020

Where to watch: Netflix

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