The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)
It has always been at the same street corner, across the street from the water tower and a few blocks from the local mini-golf course of my childhood. To this day, I have seen groups of five or so people with signs, protesting against abortion. It has been so common to me (it still happens to this day) that I find it odd when I don’t see anyone in lawn chairs at that spot.
While I am not sure if that qualifies as a “peaceful protest” (I have never heard of any of them being arrested or anything), I was thinking of it a bit during The Trial of the Chicago 7 (streaming now on Netflix). It focuses on the true story of the men who were brought to trial after being charged with the intention of starting riots during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, even though the protests were meant to be peaceful in their opposition against the Vietnam War.
Those cast as the seven men are rock solid in the roles (as are the rest of the cast). These include Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne (who was once a part of 2012’s Les Miserables and is also Newt Scamander from the Harry Potter Universe) as Tom Hayden, Sacha Baron Cohen (who looks and sounds nothing at all like his character of Borat) as Abby Hoffman, Jeremy Strong as Hoffman’s partner Jerry Rubin, and John Carroll Lynch (one of my personal favorite character actors) as David Dellinger. Their lawyer is William Kunstler (Mark Rylance), while the prosecutors send in a young lawyer, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
The one hold out defendant is Black Panther chairman Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who refuses the help of Kunstler because his own lawyer is in the hospital. His calls to be heard by the jury are constantly shut down in court by Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella).
The movie was written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, perhaps the most well known name today when it comes to screenwriting (with the probable exception of Tarantino). Like all of his previous scripts (A Few Good Men, The American President, The West Wing, The Social Network, and Moneyball, just to name a few), the dialogue (as well as monologues) sizzle on the screen. I can’t imagine many actors not wanting to chomp at the bit when they are reading over a Sorkin script. His writing is so top notch I imagine many actors not wanting to even do a little improvising because of how fully fleshed out the characters are written.
As a director (this is his second time at the helm since 2017’s Molly’s Game), it is refreshing to watch the film without being completely confused (which I admit to being in movies from time to time). There is indeed many flashbacks to the night in question, including overlapping dialogue that is nearly done with pin point accuracy. It is constructed in a way that is both informative and entertaining, and while that sounds like it should be a no brainer, it does not mean it is easy to do.
While it maybe easy to start to sympathize with certain characters, we soon learn that each of them is flawed. They all make mistakes (even the lawyers in their own ways), but that is because of one simple fact: they are human.
As is the case with most movies based on true events, some liberties are taken for the sake of storytelling and entertainment (the Gordon-Levitt character is fictional). Yet there are some moments that actually do occur, most notably an act by Judge Hoffman that will leave you both speechless and almost shaking in anger (Langella portrays one of the bigger jerks in cinema’s last decade or so).
Parents, the movie is rated R, though I would think it would be a great movie for High Schoolers to see. There is plenty of swearing and a good amount of violence and drama. There is talk about sex, but nothing explicitly shown, although one scene shows a woman about to be molested but is saved before anything graphic is shown. This rating comes largely from the heaviness of the film’s themes. Not only that, but (in my view) it reveals the humanity of protesters – flaws and virtues – in a mesmerizing and timely manner.
The movie was filmed in Chicago during the fall of 2019, months before we witnessed the Black Lives Matter Protests of 2020 (both peaceful and not so peaceful), making the timing of the film rather hair-raising. Maybe I am wrong (and I hope I am not), but I would gather most people would rather have a peaceful protest than a harmful one. While actions do speak louder than words, doing so peacefully (such as those folks on my local street corner) leaves a better legacy than doing so maliciously.
Not a bad example for our country to follow these days.
Overall: 4/5 Stars