The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

Genre: Drama and Legal Thriller Running Time: 2 hrs. 9 min.

Release Date: October 16th, 2020 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Aaron Sorkin Actors: Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Shenkman, Frank Langella, Michael Keaton, Kelvin Harrison Jr.

 


 

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resident Johnson announces that the monthly draft call for Vietnam will increase from 17,000 – 35,000. And that’s just the start of induction escalations beginning in 1965. The numbers continue to rise, infuriating plenty of anti-war movements across the United States. Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), leaders of the Students for a Democratic Society; Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong, in the most transformative performance of the bunch) of the Youth International Party; David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), leader of The Mobe; and Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), National Chairman of the Black Panther Party, are just a few of the activists ready to protest at the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where 5,000 troops of the Illinois National Guard, plus an additional 10,000 policemen, prepare for the demonstrations.

As it so happens, a riot breaks out in the neighboring park (and surrounding areas), leading to some serious charges. Five months after the convention (with Nixon now in office), federal prosecutors Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Tom Foran (J.C. MacKenzie) are called in to lead the 1969 case of conspiracy to cross state lines to incite violence, as the district attorney has deemed a collection of eight protestors (Lee Weiner [Noah Robbins] and John Froines [Danny Flaherty] are also defendants, thrown in for juror manipulation) – the “radical left” – a threat to national security. And in the opposite corner are defense attorneys William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) and Leonard Weinglass (Ben Shenkman), who must struggle with a diverse collection of clients as well as a hostile judge (Frank Langella). “I don’t care for your general tone.”

The film covers a very serious, very significant event, but it does so with continuous comedy. The defendants are flippant and soak up publicity with sarcasm-riddled press conferences; the judge appears senile at random, rules with extreme prejudice, and intermittently ignores outbursts as if unaware of his position; and judicial corruption is rampant, analyzed through hysterical meetings that highlight the the aggravating nature of such one-sided authority. Interestingly, the riot itself is only hinted at to begin with, as the trial gets well underway with introductory questioning, putting the humor first, with the dirtier details arriving sporadically later on; this is, in a cinematic sense, an easier way to digest the dour complications.

“There’s no such thing as a political trial.” The game is so incredibly rigged against the Chicago eight (midway through the trial, the number would be reduced to seven) that despite the continuous injections of light laughs, it’s difficult not to be consistently enraged (also of note is the way the white defendants are treated differently than Seale, the sole black defendant, demonstrating the harsh divide in civil rights applications). Chuckles tend to alternate with groans of contempt. The whole trial is far from a courtroom procedural; it’s a kangaroo court. And it’s outrageously potent, remaining so as more pieces of the truth are uncovered.

Thanks to the humor, this story will likely reach greater audiences (perhaps in the same way that “The Big Short” educated more people through its breezy approach), but it’s the serious, historical elements that are essential. There are a few heroes lurking under the facade of justice, but plenty more villains to keep them down. Here, the performances are simply outstanding – particularly Rylance, Langella, and Strong (who all receive many of the best lines as well) – while the arrangement of trial proceedings, flashbacks, and rousing speeches is handled in a wildly amusing fashion, oftentimes cutting back and forth in time to reiterate commentary or reveal revelations. But more winning than the educational value – which is high – is the entertainment value (plenty of which is created through artistic license, distorting a wealth of interactions and testimony, including the finale), which gives this picture its enjoyable edge.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10