The Trial of The Chicago 7 Review – Emotional, Politically Charged, Four Stars!

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The Trial of the Chicago 7, a Netflix original film, present a true account of one of the most tumultuous seasons in history and the subsequent events that focused the global attention on a small courtroom in Chicago.

 

Written and Directed by Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7 stars Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, J.C. MacKenzie, Ben Shenkman, Frank Langella, Alice Kremelberg, Michelle Hurst, John Doman, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Michael Keaton.


 

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The poignant film begins with a news clip of President Johnson announcing he is increasing the troops sent to Vietnam followed by the lottery of chance which sentenced thousands to death in the jungles of south east Asia. This kicks off the protests across society from the mainstream reformers to the radical left, the War in Vietnam became the unifier of a generation who had seen too many dying before their time.

Prepared for a revolution, it is the summer of 1968 and Chicago is the home on the Democratic National Convention, Walter Cronkite, the most trusted name in Journalism speaks on the Police State that is Chicago.

A series of mosaics introduces the players who are on a collision course with history. Snapshots of history, MLK dead, Bobby dead, blood running through the streets and a generation fed up with authoritarian rule.

Descending on Chicago with the intent of protesting in front of the convention, pre-social media, were The Students for Democratic Society led by Tom Hayden, played by Eddie Redmayne, and Rennie Davis, played by Alex Sharp. The Youth International party led by Abbie Hoffman, played by Sacha Baron Cohen, and Jerry Rubin, played by Jeremy Strong. The National Mobilization Committed to Ending the War in Vietnam led by David Dellinger, played by John Carrol Lynch and the Black Panthers led by Bobby Seale, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.


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This charged, fused, introduction abruptly stops at the Department of Justice, where we see the picture of newly elected President Richard Nixon, replacing Lyndon B. Johnson. The election over, the Chicago convention history, a resurrection of the past is about to begin.

Richard Schultz, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Thomas Foran, played by J.C. MacKenzie, are meeting with the newly appointed Director of the US Justice Department, John Mitchell, played by John Doman, who has decided to expose the previous administrations failures and bring to trial the Chicago Seven.

With chants of “The Whole World is Watching,” the indicted along with attorney’s William Kunstler, played by Mark Rylance, Leonard Weinglass, played by Ben Shenkman, are prepared for what is expected to resemble a criminal trial.

After Judge Julius Hoffman, played by Frank Langella, arrives the proceedings which were bought from the beginning, smacked of a clash of culture and the corrupt system of injustice, as the authoritarian rule of yesteryear clashed with the hope of change.

I really liked this film. Fifty-two years in the making the idea for the screenplay came to Sorkin from Steven Spielberg and the only surviving member, Tom Hayden. Over the last thirteen years, history, the trial transcript, and the early conversations with Hayden directed Sorkin through the process.


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History tends to repeat itself and the scenes of police violence, the demand for police accountability, the hatred of previous administrations policies and determinations, ring true currently. Sorkin provides enough humor to defuse the violence and weaves these bloody clashes into the courtroom scenes through live-action flashbacks so not to overwhelm the audience.

In an ensemble of megawatt talent, Frank Langella stands out portraying authoritarian rule, bordering on lunacy, which never appears to come close to fair, honest or even judicial rule. Mark Rylance and Sacha Baron Cohen, each have moments of brilliance. Rylance attempting judicial decorum and Baron Cohen presenting the new culture.

The mockery, which at the time, many said came from the radicals was in fact coming from the bench and those who wished to push back the changing cultural revolution and more so, deconstruct the Johnson administration DOJ handling of those who dare to demand change.


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The Chicago massacre is just continued evidence of the PTSD that gripped the nation after the Kennedy Assassination. The graphic horror of that moment propelled the nation into a season of convulsing chaos, and the subsequent murders of Martin Luther King, Jr and Bobby Kennedy kept this tumultuous nauseating season rolling resulting in regurgitation of hate against the forces of change.

The film also includes these deeply emotional moments, as the media presents the list of names of the soldiers killed in Vietnam, a credit roll played to taps with an America flag backdrop. It is a consolidating moment in the film as opinions, directions, beliefs no longer matter as the bigger cause becomes the guide.

Aaron Sorkin delivers on this politically charged historical film. The Trial of the Chicago 7 doesn’t leave you with warm fuzzy feelings of the 1960s generation. It presents a truth which many would prefer to be hidden in the annals of time that has once again gained prominence as bloody violence from those who believe a badge is license to kill, captures the headlines.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 streams exclusively on Netflix October 16, 2020. See it and see it again.

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