"The Trial of the Chicago 7" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
"The whole world is watching" is a chant heard throughout Aaron Sorkin's courtroom drama "The Trial of the Chicago 7". Based on a true story set in 1969, the film revolves around the infamous trial of the Chicago 7 - Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), John Froines (Danny Flaherty), and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins). Another defendant, Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is being tried during this trial as well, but his convictions are ruled as a mistrial halfway through.
The seven are on trial for leading violent protests against the Vietnam War during the Democratic Convention held in Chicago that previous year. However, this is an extremely unfair trial with racist, bigoted Judge Julius Hoffman ruling, played by Frank Langella. The prosecution (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and J.C. MacKenzie), which the judge favors, also does everything in their power to make sure the seven are convicted unfairly.
The film starts at the beginning of the trial, and we see the events of the riots and protests unfold through a series of flashbacks. We see how each character is affected by the events the previous year, and we see how each of them are changed and affected by the trial. An example of this is when Dellinger, who promotes non-violence, punches a cop in the face when they try to make him sit down during the trial. He instantly regrets what he did, especially after seeing the disappointed face of his son in the courtroom audience.
One of the most upsetting and gripping scenes in the film is when Seale is taken to another room in the courthouse, where he is then beaten and gagged by the police. He is then brought back to the courtroom and handcuffed to the chair, being publicly humiliated by the judge's wishes. This prompts Schultz on the prosecution (Levitt) to counsel the judge and declare Seale's trial a mistrial. Hoffman then declares that he has never been racist his entire life, which the lawyer on the defense side scoffs at. This obviously shows that Hoffman is unfit to be a judge, shown by the circumstances in which he runs his courtroom. He claims to not be racist, yet he gags and chains up the only Black man on trial. Why didn't he do this to Hoffman (which the judge lets known to the jury multiple times that they are not related) who has repeatedly spoken and acted out during the court proceedings?
This is the second film Sorkin has directed. He has written many screenplays that have gone on to be amazing films, such as "The Social Network" and "Moneyball". He also worked on the critically-acclaimed show, "The West Wing". In this film, Sorkin does an excellent job leading his actors, and staging scenes so the audience feels so many different emotions when watching this film. The scenes of the riots and trial can be upsetting, but he balances it out with comedic relief, mostly from Baron Cohen and Strong.
The three stars of this film are Baron Cohen, Strong, and Redmayne, who all pull off some of the best dramatic performances of their career. Baron Cohen and Redmayne had to adopt American accents, and they pull them off so well you can't even tell American English isn't their native tongue. Baron Cohen gives some of the best comedic relief throughout the film, but also provides amazing dramatizations of the trial and how the trial has affected his character.
This film was released during the time of the Black Lives Matter protests, with the election coming up. Is Sorkin educating on past events, or is he making a statement that trials and events from back in the 60's are still happening today? You could look at it both ways, and you also see the vast amount of similarities and differences between the trial in 1969 and the riots in present day. No matter which way you look at it, you can't deny the fact of how moving, gripping, and excellent this film is.