Written and Directed by Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7 tells the true story of eight men – later seven – put on trial for crossing state lines to commit conspiracy and inciting a riot in Chicago whilst protesting the war in Vietnam.
When Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and two others find themselves in front of a grand jury they are quick to realise that their fates have been predetermined and they and their truths are at the mercy of prejudiced judge – Julius Hoffman (Franck Langella).
Though for the most part, the tale unfolds in a linear manner there is a mixture of flashback and archive footage seamlessly woven in. It all comes together to excite both frustration and bewilderment that such a trial was even allowed to take place and last as long as it did.
I actually didn’t plan to watch this movie as from personal experience I don’t tend to find movies set around the late 60’s/70s, or surrounding the Vietnam war as engaging. However, when I saw it was directed, and written by one of my favourites, there was no way I could resist and I was glad I took the plunge. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is an emotional land thought-provoking story with undeniable parallels to the protest of 2020.
The acting was fantastic across the board, each person was able to breathe life and individuality into their characters so nobody got lost in the fray, something that can be especially difficult with such a large and prominent ensemble cast.
The most emotional impactful sections of the movie surrounded Bobby Seale who was grouped with the Chicago 7 despite not knowing, or even having to do with any of them. The continued disregard for his rights and the lengths they went to in order to bound and gag his truth were some of the most tear-jerking scenes I’ve seen in a while (I say tear-jerking but the tears that streamed down my face were more along the lines of a running faucet). He was admirable in his refusal to stop speaking up for himself and it had a ripple effect to those who bore witness to his unfair mistreatment.
One of my favourite aspects of the movie was the use of Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and John Froines (Daniel Flaherty). They made up two of the Chicago 7 but remained on the fringes, admitting both to themselves and the audience that they had no idea what they were even doing there. They added an element of comic relief, whilst slapping you in the face with the truth and subterfuge of the US justice system.
The clever storytelling and the tension ramping scenes has Sorkin written all over it – but the rest of it feels entirely born of someone else. This isn’t a criticism but an observation that we are seeing a transformation away from his own common troupes peeling back to uncover a new and interesting layer of writing and directing.