Ever since the pandemic struck, it has been hard to not compare any scenario to the troubled times we live in. The same goes for every film and series that hits our streaming platforms– they are pitched through the “pandemic sensitivity screener” that judges whether they represent the current crisis in some way (Away), are totally aloof or inadvertently, the wrong story at a very wrong time. But Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 fits the bill perfectly– just take out the Vietnam War, instead, add the pandemic and you have 2020.
The Trial of The Chicago 7 tells the story of the aftermath of the 1968 riots but could as well have been the backdrop against which 2020 has been progressing. Sorkin depicts the senseless police brutality that took place after the riots and the rampant racial injustice; it even has a pending election. The timing of the film’s arrival couldn’t have been dead on. But it wouldn’t have mattered if Sorkin hadn’t made the film, which he had been working on since 2007, and weaved the events like he did– by keeping the history intact but also relatable.
The events that unfold in The Trial of the Chicago 7 are pretty much a straight forward narration of what happened. There are no thrilling twists, no drama waiting to happen– to put it simply, it’s not anything that a simple Google search won’t tell you. But that’s the agenda here– to not let the past remain a history lesson. It needs to be understood, to be felt, it needs to be realized that history indeed repeats itself and when it comes to the events like those of 1968, it never stopped.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a sum of all the events during and after the bloody 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago after which the anti-Vietnam War riots began in Lincoln Park and unarmed protestors became the scapegoat for the heavily armed police forces. So, to make a lesson out of the eight “ringleaders” who allegedly staged the entire thing, Nixon’s AG, John Mitchell goes after them and charges them with conspiracy and inciting to riot.
The Trials of Chicago 7 highlights the most powerful and impactful moments from the five-month trial while weaving in flashbacks from the protests, both before and after it turned violent. The story majorly takes place as a courtroom procedural where eight defendants are on trial– the flamboyant leader Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), who is having a gala while committing endless contempts of court, his fellow team members Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), the nerdy Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) and the calm diplomat David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch).
Pulled into this mess are also Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who was not even present at the time of the riots and two others, Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and John Froines (Danny Flaherty), who have no idea why they were arrested. They all (except Seale) are represented by the ace lawyer William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) who is up against the “good man” prosecutor Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The case is being heard by Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) who obviously isn’t a big fan of the big group of revolutionaries in from of him, especially Sacha Baron Cohen’s Abbie, with whom he shares his surname, to his chagrin as this makes him the object of many sly jokes during the hearing.
While it is the impactful performances by the entire cast that lends The Trial Of The Chicago 7 its strength, it is Sacha Baron Cohen and Michael Keaton who stand out. It’s just the resemblance to the real Abbie Hoffman that makes Cohen’s portrayal authentic, it is the heart he puts into it. Same goes for Keaton who appears as former Attorney General Ramsey Clark for just 2 scenes but rules the frame every time he is in it with his captivating performance.