The Trial of the Chicago 7
UK Release: 16/10/2020
Directed by: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon Levitt
The Trial of the Chicago 7 was a turning point in American history.
It had been three years since US Marines landed in Vietnam, and by the 1968 Democratic National Convention, enough was enough – a number of groups decided to protest.
Tom Hayden (played by Eddie Redmayne) was one of the protest leaders – President of the Students for a Democratic Society.
But what was planned to be a peaceful protest quickly turned violent.
And eight men, including Hayden, were arrested and charged with conspiracy.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 masterfully picks apart what happened, with some stellar performances punctuated by real-life footage from the events. And with some excellent casting choices, director Aaron Sorkin highlights the farcical nature of the trial brilliantly.
Abbie Hoffman (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (played by Jerry Strong) used the courtroom battle to bring their cause to a national stage.
And some of the more theatrical moments are played out in the movie to staggering effect.
But it’s more than just theatre.
Tensions within the group soon begin to rise as Abbie and Jerry use their stage to bring attention to the cause. All the while, Tom is focussed on a more serious approach to their predicament.
It’s this counterbalance that brings the comedy and dramatic tension to The Trial of the Chicago 7 as the various twists and turns put pressure on the defendants to bend to the judge’s will.
Of course, the group is picked apart expertly by Richard Schultz (played by Joseph Gordon Levitt) – an assistant district prosecutor.
But the real standout performance is by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II who is simply incredible in his role as Bobby Seale.
Bobby claimed to have never even met the others who he was accused of conspiring with.
The restraint in his performance is punctuated by some harrowing moments that are all the more disturbing when you realise that these actually played out in a US courtroom.
I’ll be honest – before watching the film, my knowledge of the Chicago 7 was vague.
I’d heard of Abbie Hoffman of course, author of Steal This Book, and I’d heard about the trial. But I had no idea about the details of the court case and what made the whole thing so unique.
Aaron Sorkin brings the whole thing to life with gusto.
What could have been a dry courtroom drama is brimming with life and theatrics.
It’s clear that Sacha Baron Cohen relished this role – brimming with his own anti-establishment theatrics in a way only Baron Cohen can muster. But there’s a gritty realism to his performance that goes beyond the farcical. These were real men fighting a real cause, and Baron Cohen clearly did his homework.
Indeed, the entire cast brings the main players to life wonderfully.
And with a tension between doing what you’re told and doing the right thing, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s assistant prosecutor is an interesting addition.
As always with film like this, it’s unclear how much embellishment exists simply to tell the story in a more theatrical way.
But The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a very important story to be told.
And I can’t help thinking it’s come along at just the right time.
Trial of the Chicago 7 comes to Netflix on 16 October 2020.