The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a historical drama based on real life events that took place in the late 1960s. 1968 was a tumultuous year for the USA. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy shook American politics. The nation was divided over the escalation of the USA’s involvement in the Vietnam War, which led to protests and demonstrations in the streets.
Against that background, several progressive political groups decided to protest the Vietnam War at the Democratic National Convention held in Chicago in August 1968. Thousands poured into Chicago from out of state and the inevitable outcome was violence, mostly incited by law enforcement. After Richard Nixon was elected as President in November that year, his newly appointed Attorney-General John Mitchell decided to charge eight individuals for the Chicago riots. This is what The Trial of the Chicago 7 is about.
Aaron Sorkin actually completed his script for The Trial of the Chicago 7 in 2007 but found the development process hard-going with directors like Steven Spielberg, Paul Greengrass and Ben Stiller all attached at one time but ultimately leaving. Ultimately, Sorkin himself decided to helm the film and got it made.
As the title suggests, the film revolves around the trial itself and can be accurately described as a courtroom drama. And dramatic it certainly is. Especially with a biased judge being challenged by defendants and defence lawyers who refused to be railroaded by a political trial.
Of course, artistic license has been liberally employed to enhance the drama of the film. For example, while it is true that Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) was bound and gagged by Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella), the film compresses the time frame of that incident to a few hours. In fact, Seale was bound and gagged for DAYS! Also, the film depicts Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) reading out a list of the Vietnam War dead during the sentencing but that actually happened earlier in the trial.
However, much of the antics of Abbie Hoffman (Sasha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) were accurately portrayed, not to mention several other details which I will leave for you, dear reader, to discover yourself!
The performances of the actors were uniformly excellent. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the conflicted prosecutor Richard Schultz, Langella’s scene stealing as Judge Hoffman and Mark Rylance as the brave attorney William Kuntsler certainly come to mind.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is an excellent courtroom drama and provides a good reminder of what American justice can be, good and bad. While it was intended for a different time – it was written just before Barack Obama was elected – it plays out perfectly for an equally tumultuous time in America right now.
… still there’s more …