The Trial of the Chicago 7
Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 is based on the infamous court case that saw seven men stand in 1969 for their involvement in the unauthorised anti-war protests held in Chicago the previous year. They were believed to be responsible for instigating the marches and mass gatherings and for inciting violence. Filled with passion and drama, the film boasts an all-star cast that does full justice to this prominent historic event.
The feature begins by briefly introducing its protagonists and how they came to be linked with the affair. The group is led by Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), the earnest co-founder of Students for a Democratic Society, and yippie comedian Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen). The seven defendants have very little in common except for the fact that their ideals partially overlap. Although clustered as one entity, when someone high up in the system decides to use them for his own political agenda they effectively unite.
When those on trial attempt to get their names cleared with the help of attorney William Kunstler (Mark Rylance), the battle proves to be extremely challenging. Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) is manifestly biased against the defendants and does nothing to conceal the fact. To add to the unjustness, Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) – the national chairman of the Black Panther Party – is wrongly included in the case and discriminated against in shocking ways.
The movie explicitly condemns the criminal justice system that sees citizens manipulated to serve political narratives. Aside from its value in highlighting a key historical event, the depiction of the trial also serves as an inquiry into the concept of freedom of expression. Is it at all possible to actively dissent from governmental choices without incurring punishment? While the film does side with the protesters, it also presents their limitations, portraying them as fallible heroes.
Features with a political tone do not always manage to hit the right balance between factuality and sensationalism, but Sorkin finds a way to make a juridical case enthralling without too many embellishments. The picture is not a documentary and it does take creative licence when outlining the characters and dialogues, but it ultimately succeeds in amping up passion while keeping sentimentality at bay. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a must-watch for both its cinematic value and the message it carries.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 was released on Netflix on 16th October 2020. The film is available for free on Netflix’s YouTube channel until Sunday 21st February 2021 7.59am GMT and can be viewed here.
Watch the trailer for The Trial of the Chicago 7 here: