by Ayumi Davis / Roosevelt Editor
Director Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” released by Netflix on Sept. 25, tells a historic and timely tale of protests, politics and raw humanity through the big screen.
The movie is based on the true story of the trial of Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Professor John Froines, Professor Lee Weiner and Bobby Seale. They are played by Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Daniel Flaherty, Ben Shankman and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, respectively. All eight were tried for criminal conspiracy and crossing state lines to start a riot in Chicago in 1968. They were originally known as the “Chicago Eight,” but Seale’s case was separated, and the remaining defendants were dubbed the “Chicago Seven.”
Hayden and Davis were leaders of the Students of Democratic Society (SDS), Hoffman and Rubin the leaders of the Youth of International Parties (a.k.a the “Yippies) and Dellinger the organizer of the Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE). Froines and Weiner were not as involved and Seale, the leader of the Black Panthers, hadn’t even participated in the riots.
The Chicago Seven and thousands of others, over 10,000 to be exact, were peacefully protesting the Vietnam War in summer 1968. They were trying to protest in front of the Democratic National Convention but were denied the permits, and were met with 12 thousand police officers armed with batons and tear gas, five thousand U.S. Army soldiers and five thousand members of the Illinois National Guard. The trial that followed in 1969 was anything but fair.
Overall, I thought the movie was an interesting and timely watch. It tugged at the right heartstrings and made me clearly understand the disadvantage that the legal defendants and protesters had in this trial. This is more starkly characterized in the moment that Judge Julius Hoffman gagged Seale and chained him to a chair for questioning to cross-examine a witness and calling the judge a racist (though, in the movie, he is told to “strongly f—” himself).
The beginning of the film did a good job of introducing the Chicago Seven (and Seale) as the group unified to plan the protest. However, as soon as they plan to go Chicago, the movie jumps to the beginning of the trial. The events slowly unfold throughout the trial as audiences piece together what happened in Chicago. While this works to provide background for the questions and actions brought up at the trial, this time skip is slightly confusing for viewers as they are forced to jump forward into the meat of the story with little to no context.
Some parts of the movie are dramatized in order to make it more entertaining, such as agent Daphne O’Connor (played by Caitlin Fitzgerald) going undercover and romancing Rubin. This subplot was added for drama, but her story seemed unnecessary. It wasn’t as if O’Connor was an integral part to the story, but rather a passing detail lasting maybe five minutes that did almost nothing for the development of the Chicago 7. The only thing O’Connor helped was to emphasize the amount of police officers that went undercover as protestors. Little moments like this made the complex story more complicated to me, and keeping track of each character within an already big cast forced me to play a sort of mental gymnastics.
Unsurprisingly, the shining star of the show was Baron Cohen. The role of Hoffman showed his versatility as an actor, maybe even more so than his recently-released “Borat 2.” Baron Cohen’s big moment comes during the last cross-examination scene, his final statement being, “I’ve never been on trial for my thoughts before.”
Eddie Redmayne was a close runner-up. His chemistry with Baron Cohen allowed the audience to really feel the tension in thoughts and ideas between the two men. The only qualm I have about Redmayne is that he seemed a bit too old to play his role, considering that Hayden was 29 during the time of the trial and Redmayne is nearly 40. There isn’t much attention paid to the fact that his character was so young, though it does little to detract from Redmayne’s otherwise stellar performance.
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” slightly relies on clichéd “inspirational movie” tropes, but the fantastic acting and a few unforgettable moments made it just enough so that the film doesn’t take away from the cultural significance of the 1968 protests and an unarguably vicious trial.
7 out of 10 torches