The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

“Mr. Kunstler, I have lived a very long time, sir. And you’re the first person ever to suggest that I have discriminated against a Black man.”  “Then let the record show that I am the second.”“Mr. Kunstler, I have lived a very long time, sir. And you’re the first person ever to suggest that I have discriminated against a Black man.”  “Then let the record show that I am the second.”

“Mr. Kunstler, I have lived a very long time, sir. And you’re the first person ever to suggest that I have discriminated against a Black man.”  

“Then let the record show that I am the second.”

The year 2020 will be a year that goes down in infamy. The year started off promising with a lineup of films that would rival 2019, but then a global pandemic hit shutting down theaters for months and having all the major releases delayed until 2021 the earliest. The silver lining is that streaming services have taken on the heavy lifting of displaying new films for the public’s consumption. The bad news is that this model doesn’t allow for the return on investment studios would hope for. At least for our sake we get some of the films we were promised.

Over the past few years Netflix has been a major player with big time films. There have been several that have created Oscar buzz and this year is no different. Earlier this year the film Da Five Bloods released with buzz around the performance by Delroy Lindo (not my personal favorite film of the year) but there is no denying how incredible of a performance it was. Netflix’s latest release is sure to stir up Oscar but, that is if there will be an Academy Awards next year. 

The Trial of the Chicago 7 feels like an Oscar season film that is if this was any normal year. The film is based on the “Chicago seven” who are a group of eight defendants charged by the federal government with conspiracy and inciting a riot and protesting the Vietnam War during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The defendants include Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), & John Froines (Daniel Flaherty). The eighth defendant is Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who is the National Chairman of the Black Panther Party. 

“Man, I don’t think there’s much chance they’re going to mix us up.“

From an actor’s perspective, this is a hell of a cast and it’s where the strength of this film mainly lies. Writer / director Aaron Sorkin (“A Few Good Men”, “MoneyBall”) focuses the film’s energy in the courtroom as the trial takes place. It’s a courtroom drama fan’s ultimate fantasy as we are taken through the events that led to the arrests of the infamous Chicago seven. The script is bulletproof and dialogue heavy – Sorkin’s specialty which he’s crafted over his career. But unlike majority of the films that have been released, this film lacks a three act structure. 

In this case, this structure of unfolding events works for the most part as the film starts with the trial after a montage of planning the demonstration. As the trial moves forward, we are shown the events leading up to the so called riot. This is where the film slows down – the action feels staged and doesn’t have that organic feeling to it then when we are listening to the lawyer’s duke it out against each other. But it’s not just the prosecutors the defense team has to worry about or the media it’s Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella).

Maybe it’s Sorkin painting a biased picture, but Judge Julius Hoffman has a vendetta against the defendants. The defense team consisting of William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) & Leonard Weinglass (Ben Shenkman) fight an uphill battle against insurmountable odds. To be fair, the defendants keep their composure, for the most part. Judge Julius Hoffman is so unfit that even prosecutors Richard Shultz (Joseph Gordan-Levitt) & Tom Foran (J. C. Mackenzie) notice how unjust and unforgiving he is. Most of the credit is due to Frank Langella’s outstanding performance serving as the film’s antagonist. A great actor will embody the character blurring the lines of where the performance begins, and the actor or actress ends and being able to identify the differences.  Langella gives a frustratingly accurate depiction of a judge who will never waver in their beliefs and he does it without breaking a sweat.

“And when you put exhibits of Native Indian families in a natural history museum alongside dioramas of early man and the Jurassic age, it gives the impression that the Cherokee evolved into modern day Europeans.“

Frank Langella isn’t the only one to give an outstanding performance in The Trial of the Chicago 7, the entire cast give incredibly poignant and compelling performances – mainly Sacha Baron Cohen and Eddie Redmayne. It’s their performances that really drive this film to be what it is – a teachable moment in history. It’s moments like these that seem to occur every so often where we can mirror what is happening today to what happened in the past. Sorkin is able to capture that feeling of history being made while keeping to the verisimilitude of the events.

Overall, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a well-crafted and put together film about an American event. Where this film succeeds is in the gravitas of the event, the excellent writing and the outstanding performances from the entire cast. The only issue is the end of the film where everyone claps while the names are being read aloud, it feels strange and out of place. If I were to rate The Trial of the Chicago 7, I’d rate it a 4.5 out of 5.

So, tell me guys, have you seen The Trial of the Chicago 7 and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think. 

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is written & directed by Aaron Sorkin is Rated R and has an 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Trial of the Chicago 7 was released on September 25, 2020 and has a runtime of 2 hours and 10 minutes. The Trial of the Chicago 7 can be streamed on Netflix.

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*I do not own these photos used in this article; all rights reserved to the copyright holder*

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