The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

trial of the chicago 7 poster 2020 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 9/10
Visual: 9/10

Pretty accurate, interesting modern day parallels


Movie Info

Movie Name: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Studio: DreamWorks Pictures

Genre(s): Drama

Release Date(s): September 25, 2020 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

trial of the chicago 7 police standoff democratic convention chicago

This is just like Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

Following the events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), Daniel Flaherty (John Froines), and Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) find themselves on trial for crossing state lines to incite a riot.  Lumped together as anti-American anarchists, they find themselves being prosecuted by Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and in a court being run by a judge named Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) who seems to have already made up his mind about trial.  William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) finds himself in a difficult situation to try to defend the eight men when it seems like all legal cards are stacked against them…and the trial is just starting.

trial of the chicago 7 abbie hoffman jerry rubin jeremy strong sacha baron cohen

We’ll take ending the war…or a few laughs

Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a historic drama about the jury trial that stretched from September 24, 1969 to February 18, 1970.  The film initially was intended for release by Paramount but due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the film ended up being released on Netflix to positive reviews.  The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Cohen), Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Song (“Hear My Voice”).

I was not a big Aaron Sorkin fan like many people.  I didn’t have anything against him, but I didn’t watch The West Wing or any of his TV shows but had seen a few of his films.  As a result, I didn’t immediately jump on The Trial of the Chicago 7 when it was released but did find it rather compelling when I finally did see the film.

trial of the chicago 7 ramsey clark michael keaton frank langella

“Can you state your name for the court?”
“I’m Batman”

The movie is strong, but a bit of background in events are beneficial.  I knew the basics of what happened in Chicago and many of the major players, but the movie doesn’t come out and give you events.  The movie does provide events but later on in the film, but it feels with the distance from those events that a better refresher might be good.  The film largely goes to show how the whole trial in general was politically driven, and how the “8th” of the Chicago 7 was racially driven.  It feels appropriate to revisit now.

The cast is good and it is because the people being lumped together as one were so different.  You have Eddie Redmane’s really preppy clean-cut “good boy” radical mixing with the attention grabbing Abbie Hoffman played by Sacha Baron Cohen, plus people like John Carroll Lynch as the conscientious WWII objector caught up in it they don’t fit together.  This of course is exemplified by Yahya Abdul Mateen II who plays the unfortunate Bobby Seale.  The actors playing the defendants are backed up by a good supporting cast including Mark Rylance as the frustrated defense attorney and man there to do a job played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  Frank Langella gets to also be a scene stealer as the judge who doesn’t seem to have a clue what is going on in his courtroom (and doesn’t care).

trial of the chicago 7 bobby seal bound gagged yahya abdul mateen ii

The only thing more shocking than this was it lasted a lot longer than it did in the movie

The movie does a nice job being a throwback to the time, but the movie feels timely with events in the United States.  It was released in September as a kind of counter to how people were being treated in the protests in 2020, but it took an interesting twist after the January 6 insurrection since the argument was Trump wasn’t responsible for the rioters’ actions (an argument held by the Chicago 7).  You can debate yes or no (Trump was cleared, and the Chicago 7 were found guilty but later dismissed), but the parallels are there and it shows how a film can change even over a short period of time beyond what a director or writer plans.

It is hard to keep politics clear of a movie like The Trial of the Chicago 7 since it is a politically charged movie.  Time has shown that the trial was largely a farce, but those on either side of the argument still often hold the grudges and argue that the protestors were at fault.  In its own way, it is kind of comforting to see that the U.S. has faced challenges and divisions in the past and overcome (how successfully could also be debated) and that time often gets it right.

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Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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