THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 movie poster | ©2021 Netflix

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 movie poster | ©2021 Netflix

Rating: R
Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Shenkman, J.C. MacKenzie, Frank Langella, Danny Flaherty, Noah Robbins, John Doman, Michael Keaton, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Caitlin FitzGerald
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Distributor: Netflix
Release Date: October 16, 2020

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 has been nominated for six Academy Awards: Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Sacha Baron Cohen), Original Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin), Film Editing (Alan Baumgarten), Cinematography (Phedon Papamichael), and Original Song (“Hear My Voice,” lyrics by Celeste and Daniel Pemberton, music by Pemberton).

Sorkin, who also directed, takes much of his material from trial transcripts. The events covered in THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 have been dramatized multiple times before, for features, television, and stage. This is probably because the themes are so compelling, and some of the facts are so jaw-dropping that the story can be retold again and again, so long as it is done well, as it is here.

In August 1968, a diverse set of groups, all protesting U.S. involvement in the war in Viet Nam, converged on the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, IL. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley sent hundreds of police and National Guard troops to confront the thousands of demonstrators. A riot ensued.

By September 1969, leaders of several of the groups were put on trial for inciting a riot: Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) from Students for a Democratic Society, Abbie Hoffman (Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) from the Youth International Party, better known as the Yippies, and Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Also charged were longtime pacifist activist David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), and college students Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and John Froines (Danny Flaherty).

That’s actually eight defendants. The number is whittled down to seven during the trial for reasons that, had they been invented, would defy credibility. Also in the is-this-for-real-why-yes-it-is file is the conduct of trial judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella).

Added to this amazing courtroom action is the push and pull of ideas and ideals of people who have very different notions of how to reach their objectives.

Sorkin is a premier wordsmith. His invention expertly matches the real speeches given during the trial, so that each individual is consistent to himself (most of the main characters are male, though Caitlin FitzGerald shines in a supporting role as an undercover operative).

Multiple flashbacks to the demonstrations give Sorkin plenty to work with visually as a director. He prevents the court scenes from seeming static because there’s always so much going on in them.

Cohen is terrific as the verbal gymnast Hoffman, even if his accent slips on a few occasions. Other standouts are Langella as the judge, Strong as the wild Rubin, Lynch as the optimistic Dellinger, and Mark Rylance as canny defense attorney William Kunstler. Abdul-Mateen is both formidable and sympathetic as the resolute Seale.

Viewers who have also seen JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH may be interested to see Fred Hampton (played here by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) involved in the proceedings as well; those who see THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 first may be inspired to see the other film for a look at what else was happening at the time.

There is a definite sense of “the more things change, the more they stay the same” with THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7. One doesn’t have to look far or use much imagination to find contemporary parallels with many aspects of the history examined within it. The film is instructive, which is good. It further does an excellent job of depicting principled, high-stakes argument, which is even better.

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