The Trial of the Chicago 7
Duration: 130 Minutes
Genre: Drama, History, Thriller
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Producer: Marc E. Platt, Stuart M. Besser, Tyler Thompson, Matt Jackson
Music: Daniel Pemberton
Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael
Editing: Alan Baumgarten
Released On: 25 September 2020
Star Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Eddie Redmayne, Noah Robbins, Mark Rylance, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong
Plot: Here is a little background, protest activity against the Vietnam War took place before and during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
In the year 1967, anti-Vietnam War protest groups and counterculture had been promising to come to Chicago and disrupt the convention. The city promised to maintain law and order. For eight days the protesters were met by the Chicago Police Department in the streets and parks of Chicago while the U.S. Democratic Party met at the convention in the International Amphitheater. It was not a pleasant sight and with the protests climaxing in what a major report later said was a "police riot" on the night of August 28, 1968. What was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration against the Vietnam War on the side-lines of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago grew into an inevitable riot as police confronted them with tear gas and rifles.
This event caught international attention.
In the middle of all these events were 8 individuals viz. Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, Bobby Seale, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, Lee Weiner, and John Froines. Of these, 7 fine protesters were charged by the Federal government with crossing state lines and conspiracy to incite a riot. The case came to court in September 1969 which was followed by the verdict in February 1970 intercutting with the events of August 1968 and Hoffman’s stand-up over the weekends at the university campus.
The whole trial was intricately observed by the world and it was something that would go down in US history. Although all seven defendants had the same goal, which was to end the US military intervention in Vietnam, it is important to note that not all of them knew each other before the trial.
They belonged to different factions, which positioned themselves on different ends of the liberal spectrum. Abbie Hoffman (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (played by Jeremy Strong) were like a politically conscious Cheech & Chong, pot-and-peace-loving radicals of the Yippie movement hoping to start a cultural revolution. Tom Hayden (played by Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (played by Alex Sharp) were idealistic students who believed they could carry out institutional reform from within. John Froines (played by Danny Flaherty) and Lee Weiner (played by Noah Robbins) were not exactly notable counterculture figures and seemed to have been picked more out of chance. David Dellinger (played by John Carroll Lynch) was a middle-aged family man, a literal Boy Scout, and a conscientious objector.
The movie illustrates this heterogeneity within the group with the constant infighting between Hoffman and Hayden who differ on matters related to protest styles, amount of media coverage, and the degree of commitment to the cause.
Hayden, is naïve, who believed they will be given a fair trial with due process. Only, it soon becomes clear the American justice system works differently in practice than in theory.
The whole incident that played with the lives of the protesters was indeed a ‘political trial’ and the movies unfolds the ‘How’.
Review: Aaron Sorkin is a well-known name in Hollywood associated with some masterpieces. He has written Broadway plays and Hollywood movies such as A Few Good Men, The Social Network and Charlie Wilson’s War. So, when he turned his eyes on the infamous trial of anti-Vietnam protestors, one wondered if the thrill of the glory days of endless possibility could be recreated.
Undoubtedly, The Trial of the Chicago 7, which Sorkin has written and directed, has succeeded spectacularly in doing precisely that. The credit for this white-knuckle thrill ride goes to the tight writing and the brilliant performances by an ensemble cast. But one character that soars higher is Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman. Whether he is teasing the judge with a heartfelt cry of ‘Father’, when the former says he is not related to Abbie, or recounting the events of the protest saying, “Allan Ginsberg was letting out a war chant to beat poets that they should begin pelting the troops with the blank verse”, Cohen is spellbinding.
There is no lack of drama during the trial from Seale being bound and gagged in court to the many disruptions. The movie also explores the tensions between the activists. The ensemble cast is extraordinary, each one breathes life into the characters.
“The whole world is watching!” This iconic chant from the protest movement of the ‘60s is featured multiple times. In an interview, Sorkin spoke of how he did not change the script to mirror the world today, but the world changed to mirror the script. And that is how the timing of the movie is so impeccable. Though the movie may have been in the works for 14 years, it sure echoes what happened in America earlier this year: the world saw peaceful protests calling for an end to systemic racism and police brutality were broken up by police who responded with, tear gas, pepper sprays, batons, and rubber bullets. The movie aims to spark conversation about how far we’ve come since the riots of 1968 and subsequent trial in Chicago of the men accused of conspiring to provoke violence in the streets.
It is also a mirror reflection of what happened in India earlier this year: The Anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests in New Delhi turned violent in another case of disproportionate use of force.
The weight of the subject matter combined with the intensity of the acting here will be more than enough for some people.
Holding a mirror to the past, Sorkin’s film sees the world for what it is today: one unwilling to learn from the mistakes of history and thus doomed to repeat them.
Must – must watch!