Review: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Title: The Trial of the Chicago 7
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Sasha Baron Cohen
Runtime: 2 hrs 9 mins

What It Is: Seven men between three different activist groups are arrested for allegedly inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention with the intent of protesting the Vietnam War and its fascist drafts. Following the start of their trial and widespread notoriety, they find themselves forced to attempt to align with each other in order to convey the same message while pushing for their freedom of speech in a court that is clearly biased against them.

What We Think: It feels like it’s been too long since we’ve received a proper courthouse drama. They’re all too easy to fumble, it seems, leaning far too much towards cheesy sentiment and forced monologues constructed so a “John Smith” can get their Oscar. I’m someone who takes history quite seriously as I want for us to be receiving as much factual information as possible through an outlet with such potential to impact general audiences extensively. Of course, the media and advertising are waving around Sorkin’s name like a trophy for this film–and they are entirely right to do so. Surprise, surprise–Sorkin’s fluid directing and character writing are keen and are just the sort of confident force that is needed to make an impact.

There were moments that were full of chill-inducing expression, ranging from inciting humorous sardonicisms to protective rage, catalyzed by the writer-director motivated further by a powerhouse production. The sets were immaculate, though at times felt a bit small during the park scenes. The score, while at times was a tad too prominent would help raise the epic amount of tension and violence in rallying scenes. The camerawork was smooth and articulated and the use of sound design ingenious and oftentimes subtle yet incredibly impactful. Overall, the sense of the film is very grounded and not cast too darkly by the shadow of Hollywood’s drive to glamorize and skew true events. Pace-wise, it feels nowhere near its actual runtime: before you know it, it’s over. It’s one admirable feat of filmmaking after another–put pragmatically, how to correctly make a big picture like this. It’s money well spent.

Are there inaccuracies? Of course, there are–you can do the research, it’ll only really take watching a youtube video or reading an article to quickly find that certain fictionalized characters were used for the sake of plot device or an event shifted to the wrong person, or that something didn’t happen all together (be sure to cross-check your research!). Nonetheless, unlike other notable attempted biographies or period pieces that fell hard on their faces (lookin’ at you, Patch Adams), Chicago 7’s deviations from history do not stand in the way of its dedicated portrayal (of a majority) to its real-life counterparts and happenings.

This film is powerful. The cast serves much to the story and its heart–Redmayne as Tom Hayden is complex and flawed, Jeremy Strong is transformative and sweet as Jerry Rubin, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale is memorable and didn’t get nearly enough screen time, and Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, of course, blew it out of the water with his quick-whip line delivery of Hoffman’s actual words. In general, Cohen definitely had the best lines out of anyone in the film, delivering great comedy and great humanity to the situation much like the real man did. Joseph Gordon Levitt was also fantastic as the straight edge, justice-dedicated Richard Schultz (who in reality, was apparently nothing like the real Schultz but was an interesting character nonetheless as a figure who appeared the least biased in the trial and stood for a much more literal sense of justice).

There is a great deal of weight on the idea that this is an epic–a group of men struggling with the sense of their message in the prospect that they are protesting a war. I honestly cannot say whether or not this conflict is universal, but it certainly and unfortunately is still relevant to the events of today.

Funny tidbit: this movie was originally conceived over a decade ago and aimed to be released in 2007 (there was actually a documentary called Chicago 10 that premiered at Sundance also about the trial). Thirteen or fifty-two years later, we are STILL having the same issues with our government today, and it can be said that we’re all still living in police (or military) states. It’s an absolutely haunting thing to think about and precise timing on behalf of the movie’s release. It is a sad reality to think that we are still having to fight and protest similar issues today when these protesters–a majority of them pacifists–had still been fighting a similar fight decades ago. The struggle to maintain the same level of freedom has been an ongoing battle and it’s an unfortunate realization that many people still need a wake-up call to. Though this movie may not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in broadening people’s perspectives to the issues they (we) are often blind to today, it will certainly contribute to the preservation of remembering just how untrustworthy our government is and has always been for the time period it is centered around as well as the year it was released in.

Our Grade: B+, Every American needs to see this. Often does authority and government view performative activism as “unpatriotic” when often it is enacted by some of the most patriotic people in the country–then and today, people sacrifice time, money, and even their own well being in order to attempt to propose better outcomes for all. I’m happy that this film didn’t strike me as pandering, glossy, or false–it is an earnest, relatively down-to-earth dissection of protesters in the face of civil unrest and distrust and the immature reaction from an institution that blatantly forces people to kill and obey. I can look past the few fictionalized details and the cheesy ending and just admire the very real and very depressing strife that these memorable, realistic characters are put through for the sake of safety, equality, peace, and progress. It doesn’t shy away from showing their egos and flaws as they are on full blast, as well as the messiness of leading a movement as much as it does put a spotlight on the unprofessional and obviously biased nature of the court they are indicted in (and yes–the judge and court were really as manipulative as they were in the movie, perhaps even more so as there are so many details about things such as the jury and witnesses that had to be left out). This is a frustrating, heart-wrenching chronicle that hits hard and close to home. Be sure to catch it on Netflix.


Author: Chai Simone