THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 | FILM REVIEW
Dir: Aaron Sorkin (15, 129 mins)
Writer/director Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing, returns with political conscience fully intact and timely. The Trial Of The Chicago 7 is a courtroom drama with a stellar cast, which occasionally strays into dramatic license but still packs a powerful emotional punch. Indeed, the seemingly more shocking and outlandish elements actually did happen – criminal incompetency from the judge, a man being bound and gagged in the courtroom and an ex-Attorney General called as a witness against the government.
Back in 1968, at the Democratic convention in Chicago, several activist groups descended to protest about the inhumane cost the war in Vietnam was having on the USA, fighting a conflict which had waning support and was drafting America’s youth to death. Sorkin gives a breezy history lesson in the opening few minutes, setting context for what is to follow before zipping forward to the 1969 trial of the title’s septet in the aftermath of a bloody protest that escalated quickly. But who is to blame – the protestors or the police – and is this a trial aimed at delivering justice or following a twisted political agenda?
The accused are made up of tight-jawed Eddie Redmayne’s Tom Hayden and Alex Sharp’s Rennie Davies, both of the Students For A Democratic Society; Sasha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong play stoned but switched-on Yippie humourists Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Then there’s John Carroll Lynch’s boy scout leader David Dellinger, who formed part of an older pacifist protest group, and Yahya Abdul Mateen II’s Bobby Seale, the leader of the Black Panthers – who shouldn’t even have been there. Two other protestors make up the group, Lee Weiner and John Froines (played by Noah Robbins and Daniel Flaherty), included within the accused only to be let off to show the court’s leniency. The others, meanwhile, were meant to be severely punished as a lesson to the counterculture movements who criticised the government’s agenda and wanted the Democrats to steer a more definite anti-war course.
Sorkin takes us expertly through the ins and outs of the days of the protest, depicting escalating tension between police and demonstrators while still giving us barnstorming moments of thespian fireworks. Frank Langella is particularly onerous as the cantankerous – and obviously biased – judge who goes to extremes to get his way; Mark Rylance exudes weary goodness as put-upon defence lawyer William Kuntsler, whist Joseph Gordon-Levitt struggles with his burden as prosecution lawyer Richard Schultz. The cast are uniformly excellent in this old-fashioned courtroom potboiler and historical document – one that incenses with style and is frighteningly timely with the backdrop of Trump’s America. It’s got plenty to say, and though it may occasionally preach it does so with stirring wit.
Available on Netflix now
words KEIRON SELF