Film review: ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’: An American injustice

6 mins read

Aaron Sorkin engages audiences with an electrifying courtroom injustice in Netflix’s ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’. A film that will surely rile all watchers and engage their minds in the dirty game of politics and power.

Anyone who watches this film will not only see history, but they’ll feel it. It’ll run through you like nothing you’ve ever felt, and you that feeling will dig a hole and sit inside you.

Bringing to our screens an all-star cast, we watch the re-inaction of a real-life courtroom war in the 60s. The trial concerns a widely recognised group of defendants being questioningly accused of inciting a riot and conspiracy. These charges relate to anti-Vietnam protests that happened during the 1968 Democratic national convention.

That may have been in the 60’s, but it has relevance today, and indeed in many struggles we find commonality throughout the ages.

Especially when the clear message of ‘words can be used to change the future’ is spilling into our ears. Our leftist activists Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) are two of the films main leads, with a tension boiling between them.

Credit: Vanityfair.com

Presenting two conflicting personalities to our screen. Redmayne portrays an uptight and collected character, whereas Cohen engages audiences in a humorous onslaught of quips.

It brings forward the friction between different types of protesting: how different methods can change the perceptions of those with the same idea. In all, the impact of stereotypes are highlighted within the film and emphasises how damaging they are.

However, a good courtroom drama is nothing without an incredible villain. Which is exactly what Frank Langella brought to the floor in his portrayal of Judge Julius Hoffman. Engaging watchers in a suspenseful, and at times infuriating, game between lawyers, judges, and defendants.

Although, what struck the most about this series was the storytelling. The narration was often split between several of the characters, but one character was often giving the most attention consuming narration; Cohen’s Abbie Hoffman.

Cohen’s monologues throughout the film are irresistible. It’s like listening to poetry, the humour and the humanity pair together so finely. There’s no denying that the writing of the film is linguistic perfection, with a dialogue that could cut holes through you.

Not only that, but the injustice throughout the film keeps it alive. To see the truth that it was never the ‘Chicago 7’ when there was eight of them. Bobby Seale (the outstanding Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the national chairman of the Black Panther Party, brings forward the racial injustice that is unfortunately all too relevant in this time.

Credit: Thewrap.com

He was only at the protest for four hours. Yet, was arrested and taken to court alongside the seven for a majority of the film without legal counsel. Not only was he denied proper counsel, but his story in the film is the most harrowing.

First, he is used as a tactic to incite fear among white jurors and next he was horrifically beaten. The scenes come in quick flashes, but they are enough to make watchers clench their fists. After all, it was not the first, nor the last, time a black man has been so openly tormented in court.

There are scenes within the film that are unforgettable. The cinematography itself is a force to be reckoned with. Especially the rioting scene shot in Lincoln Park, where the scene flashes from in colour to black and white shots that give the impression of the real footage.

Making the film all the more eloquent.

Although, there are real pieces of history embedded in the script. Sorkin slips in a couple of iconic quotes from the court transcripts, such as Hoffman’s powerful:

“I’ve never been on trial for my thoughts before.”

Abbie Hoffman

Writing like that truly makes a masterpiece. Sorkin created something that reflects the issues America is still facing in this age. Despite this film being over a decade old; he brought it to life with relevance and made its heartbeat with exceptional acting.

It’s emotional, it’s thought-provoking, and most importantly, it’s inspiring. Watching would be flawed heroes challenging a corrupt government is a story people want: we want the witty bite backs at authority and to see the little man flip the finger in the face of injustice.

We want drama but with the emotion and that’s what Sorkin delivered. Not only that, but we’re watching is a dramatized perception of reality. Our emotions are justified because a lot of what happened reflects real life.

If that’s not enough; look at the news and you’ll still see it. Watching ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ is so haunting and adrenaline-infused because it’s not so different from today’s politics. Except this may have been where it started; politics. This film is both in the past and in the now all at once.

Featured image credit: CinemaBlend.com

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Deputy Editor of Brig Newspaper. Fourth year journalism and English student at the University of Stirling. Lover of covering social issues and creator of 'The Talk' column for everyone who needs to hear it.

Deputy Editor of Brig Newspaper. Fourth year journalism and English student at the University of Stirling. Lover of covering social issues and creator of 'The Talk' column for everyone who needs to hear it.

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