The Trial of the Chicago 7
- October 21, 2020
Before I begin, and in the interest of full disclosure, I am a huge Aaron Sorkin fan. He’s a writer’s writer and his words flow like music. He is a gifted storyteller who creates the most beautiful monologues and exposition and very few screenwriters can do what he does when it comes to crafting character depth and motivation. And with Sorkin behind the pen and behind the camera both, this flick literally has his fingerprints all over it.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the dramatic retelling of the true events that took place surrounding the Democratic National Convention in 1968. In protest of the Vietnam War, several civil rights and anti-war organisations rallied together and converged on Chicago to make their voices heard. What began as a peaceful protest quickly turned into a violent confrontation with police. This film pieces together the escalating events that led to eight civil rights leaders being arrested and tried in violation of the Rap Brown law that made crossing state lines to incite violence a federal crime.
With his signature blend of humour, political savvy and compelling character development, Sorkin uses this historic federal case and the circumstances leading up to the trial, as a call to reflect on our current political climate without explicitly mentioning our present day politics, at all. He does so with expertly crafted monologues and protest scenes that echo images we have seen flood our news feeds in recent months and years. Issues of racism, media manipulation and law-enforcement bias are examined against the backdrop of rampant corruption and government over-reach that was as prevalent during the civil rights era of the 1960s as it is today.
One of the most interesting tools of storytelling that Sorkin commonly uses is telling the same story through the diverse points of view of his ensemble cast and in this film he does this beautifully, once again. This method is employed not only through the script as it was written but through the contrast in camera angles and quick-cut editing between characters during the retelling of some of the most dramatic scenes.
Sasha Baron Cohen and Eddie Redmayne play off each other brilliantly as co-defendants Abbie Hoffman and Tom Hayden who frequently butt heads on how to move forward through the trial. Hoffman, part of a comedy duo that included Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), through a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards, becomes a key narrator of unfolding events throughout the trial. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a thoughtful yet understated portrayal of federal prosecutor, Richard Schultz opposite Frank Langella’s deliberately erratic and contradictory Judge Julius Hoffman. Each scene brings another dynamic combination of actors interacting with wit and purpose.
The original case featured in The Trial of the Chicago 7 is dramatic and fascinating in it’s own right and Aaron Sorkin’s style of storytelling only enhances the tale. His brand of parable-like teaching through film was made for these true-story accounts of government, politics and justice. Sorkin weaves a thoughtful narrative throughout the film without crossing the line into melodrama or self-righteousness. He just steadily and intentionally spins his tale into an intriguing and thought-provoking interpretation of the trial and political climate of the late 60s. It’s been five decades since this trial occurred but the themes found in this flick are as relevant today as they were in 1968.
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