The latest 2020 political activism film, The Trial of the Chicago 7 makes audience cinematically nostalgic. This Netflix production recently premieres in several places that take us to the sixties in the United States. Sorkin’s movie is about the case of the MLK / FBI documentary offering a viewpoint of the story about the 1969 assassination of the activist and leader of the Black Panther Party in Illinois, Fred Hampton, Judas and the Black Messiah.
As a writer and director of the film, Aaron Sorkin starts out being well aware of the significance that the sixties had in the history of this country. This Netflix edition, in a succession of fast sequences, loaded with that Sorkinian energy. It makes the characters keep talking and then it shows us the call to the ranks made by President Lyndon B. Johnson for the Vietnam War. It also focuses on the death of the military opposition of Martin Luther King, and the death of Robert Kennedy. Moreover, the film brilliantly showcases the existence of various groups and activists in the United States against the war.
Synopsis of the Trial of the Chicago 7
“Martin (Luther King) Malcolm (X) is dead. Medgar (Evers) is dead. Bobby (Kennedy) is dead. Jesus is dead. They tried peacefully, we are going to try something different,” the founder of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) explains in the film. And he declares his decision to go to Chicago to protest against the war. The demonstration was part of the Democratic National Convention in the summer of 1968.
Seale wasn’t the only one to go to Chicago. There are many others who appear to take part in the protests including Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) and Tom Haydn (Eddie Redmayne) from the activist organization Students for a Democratic Society. David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) from different parties also join the cause. Though these activists gathered with the intention of speaking peacefully about the Democratic candidate for the future presidential elections and Seale’s own position on the Vietnam war. But the protest ends in clashes with the police. The organizers receive charges of conspiracy and incitement to violence.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 Critical Review
The Chicago 7 trial presents all these historical figures by putting their names on the screen upon appearing on the scene. Sorkin has assembled a cast of luxury for this film about a political trial, in which its protagonists had to face the possibility of spending up to 10 years in jail for their political ideology. The film contrasts the media judgment of these activists in 1969 (when Republican Richard Nixon already in the presidency) to the events of the summer of 1968 that leads them to that situation.
One of the most pleasing surprises in The Trial of the Chicago 7 is actually Cohen’s performance. And he did so well that we wouldn’t be surprised to see him nominated for an Oscar. The comedian here plays a very important role in wearing the scruffy clothes and wig of a hippie. He literally doesn’t take himself seriously and has no respect for authority. Despite his careless behaviour, he delivers some of the best phrases of the entire film. The English actor actually manages to coin the characteristic of New England accent that his character would literally have.
They are phrases like: “I have never been judged by my thoughts before” or “The institutions of our democracy are wonderful things that right now are populated by terrible people.” For the audience, the favourite Cohen moment comes when the judge in the movie, asks if you know the term “contempt of court.” The brilliancy of dialogue making shows here when Cohen’s character responds, “It’s practically a religion to me.”
The other two strong assets of this ensemble cast include Michael Keaton and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Along with all these brilliant actors, the Oscar-winning Eddie Redmayne shows his charisma and magnetism. He plays a student leader and the performance is unknown to the actor. Last but not the least, Abdul-Mateen, who just won an Emmy for his role in Watchmen which is an especially awkward sequence to watch because of the way his character is mistreated. The Trial of the Chicago 7 makes a sharp comment on the character of Abdul-Mateen. He is the only black man tried and exposes the difference with which he was treated with respect to the rest of the accused.
Sorkin as Director and Writer
The Trial of the Chicago 7 has all the Sorkinisms that characterize the director of The West Wing and screenwriter of A Few Good Men or The Social Network. The quick and brilliant dialogue, long monologues, ideology, political romanticism, democratic passion, sequences all characterizes Sorkin’s strong direction in which you walk and talk at the same time with the lack of female characters. This title of Sorkin almost seems that the fight for civil rights of the sixties was forged only by men.
There is something that makes this film relevant and almost essential in a year like 2020. There are many parallels that can be drawn between the moment in history described in the film and the one that is lived right now in the United States. “I want good manners to return. The America I grew up in,” says the United States Attorney General of the Nixon government, John Mitchell (John Doman), while starting The Trial of the Chicago 7. After hearing him we could not stop to feel that unfortunately, things have not changed so much since 1969.