The Trial of The Chicago 7

Movie Poster / NetflixCenter

Director: Aaron Sorkin 

Screenwriter: Aaron Sorkin

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Danny Flaherty, Noah Robbins, Mark Rylance, Ben Shenkman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Frank Langella

The Trial of The Chicago 7 retells the true story of the 1969 trial of originally eight men that were charged for conspiracy to incite a riot during the summer of 1968 at the Democratic National Convention. The defendants consisted of eight men that were democratic anti-war, civil rights activists – Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), John Froines (Danny Flaherty), Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Hayden and Davis were the leaders of the Students for Democratic Society (SDS), Hoffman and Rubin were the leaders of the Youth International Party, also known as the “yippies”, Dellinger lead the Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam and Seale was the chairman of the Black Panthers. As you can recognize, each of these men had become representatives for revolution and the radical left. In the beginning of the film, all eight men are referred to as “the all-star team”. It becomes clear that they had been charged because of who they are and not for what they had done.

The final two defendants, Lee and Froines were charged for the purpose of later being acquitted while the rest of the men were sentenced to give the illusion that they were given a fair trial and to ease the upset in liberals. At the beginning of the trial in the film, Froines questions why he and Lee had been charged to where Lee responds “all I know is this is the Academy Awards of protests and it’s just an honor to be nominated”. 

Frame of Abbie Hoffman (Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Strong) / CineMontage

As the trial begins, Hoffman states that it is a “political trial”. He believed that they were being used to make an example out of by the United States and that the defendants needed to make known to the world that they are being silenced by the government, although freedom of speech is within the first amendment. They were charged for breaking a law that was passed as a way to silence black activists and one that no one had ever been charged with. 

Bobby Seale had been charged with conspiracy to incite a riot in Chicago although he was not present for any of the riots and had only been in Chicago for 4 hours that weekend to give a speech. The day before the trial began, Seale’s lawyer fell ill and was in the hospital, so he had no representation and when asked to represent himself, the judge continuously refused. Seale was the only black man of the group and Judge Julius Hoffman’s racism was revealed throughout Seale’s time apart of the trial. After Seale continuously tried to be rewarded his constitutional right to representation and became outspoken on the matter, Judge Hoffman had him gagged and chained to his chair in the middle of an American courtroom. This scene is difficult to watch unfold. What’s most upsetting is that although the film shows Seale in this position for a few moments, in actuality, the real Bobby Seale was gagged and chained for several days throughout the trial. The mistreatment of Bobby Seale later resulted in him being separated from the rest of the group and given his own trial. 

Although these seven men stood for the same values and were on the same side of politics, it is noticeable that they are respectively different. They are described by the US prosecutor as “the radical left in different costumes”. Tom Hayden and Abbie Hoffman could not be more opposite of men. Hayden was clean cut, followed authority and believed in revolution through winning elections, whereas Hoffman became the face for hippies, smoked weed and believed in theatrics and large stunts in order to get people to pay attention and start a cultural revolution. Although, both are established men of the 1960’s revolution.

This is possibly my favorite film from this year. I had known of the revolution that began in the sixties and had heard of Abbie Hoffman and admired what he stood for and how brought attention to the issues he cared about, but I never knew the depth of this trial and what it symbolized in this era. Director and screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin began writing this film in 2007, but continued it after the 2016 election. The Chicago riots took place during the presidential race of Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixion. The country was completely divided at this point. This can be comparable to the division our country is currently under after the Trump vs. Biden Presidential race. Our country has again found itself in a place where revolution is necessary and is being begged for by American. As a 22 year old women, growing up in this political climate, I’ve been called to action and to stand up against the patriarchy. It’s so upsetting that in 2020, we can still relate to events from the 1960’s. This past summer, there was a restart to the Civil Rights Movement and we witnessed peaceful protests once again become less peaceful due to the cruelness of the police. This movie re-inspired me to not give up on change and true justice for all. 

The real Chicago 7 and their lawyers Willam Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass / Chicago Tribune

Sorkin described the film as not a photograph of the trial, but as a painting. Although many events of the film are factual, he wanted the audience to get an idea of who these men were and where they stood in the revolution. There are stand out performances by almost every character. Sacha Baron Cohen played an amazing Abbie Hoffman and was even able to almost perfect the Massachusetts accent although Cohen actually has an English accent. Mark Rylance, who played William Kunstler, the head lawyer of the Chicago 7, fully showcased Kunstler’s dedication and heart to this case. A performance I thoroughly enjoyed throughout the film and that I had hoped received multiple nominations was Jeremy Strong’s portrayal of Jerry Rubin, the second yippie of the group. 

Throughout the film, Rennie Davis, played by Alex Sharp, is seen keeping names of all the soldiers in Vietnam that had died from the start of the trial. When Hayden asks Davis why he’s doing this, he explains that the trial might take attention away from why those men are really there – to end the war. After 5 of the 7 men had been found guilty and waiting their sentencing, Tom Hayden is about to give his closing statement. The Judge tells Hayden that if he decides to make a statement that is brief and non-political, that he will look favorably on his sentencing. Hayden then begins to read the names of 5,000 men that had been killed in Vietnam. This scene makes the viewer want to stand up and cheer just as the rest of the courtroom is doing in the film. Although this scene is not factual, David Dillinger did begin to recite names of fallen soldiers during one of his statements before the Judge forced him to stop. The 5 men are given a retrial which was later denied as they are acquitted of all charges. 

The Trial of The Chicago 7 can be streamed on Netflix.

The film is an Oscar Nominee for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Supporting Actor to Sacha Baron Cohen. 

Other Nominations-

Golden Globes:

Best Screenplay

Best Motion

Best Director

Best Supporting Actor – Sacha Baron Cohen

Critics’ Choice Awards:

Best Picture

Best Director

Best Original Screenplay

Best Supporting Actor – Sacha Baron Cohen

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