The Trial of the Chicago 7

In lieu of last night’s Oscars, this week I wanted to discuss my favorite of the best picture nominees: The Trial of the Chicago 7. Although it did not win best picture, I personally found it to be my favorite of the category (not to discredit any of the other fantastic films that were selected). The Trial of the Chicago 7 was directed by Aaron Sorkin and aired on netflix late in 2020. If you have not yet seen the film, which I recommend you do, here is a quick synopsis:

The film is based on the real life trial of, who became known as, the “Chicago 7”. The film takes place primarily in the courtroom where the eight defendants (including Bobby Seale (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), leader of the black panther party who was later acquitted) were put on trial for crossing state lines to incite riots. They were to be charged with conspiracy, among other things, because of the counter-cultural protests that took place at the 1968 democratic national convention in Chicago, IL.

 The first part of the film that I want to talk about is it’s setting. Obviously, the film takes place between the years of 1968 and 1969, when the convention and the trial took place. The sixties were a time of revolution and change. Counterculture had a massive impact on society at the time and this film focuses on that aspect of the decade. Characters like Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) (who of course, were based on real people) were prominent figures in sixties counterculture and social activism. Through flashbacks of moments that took place before the trial, the film was able to show a version of the sixties that was ruled by social change. The film puts you directly into what the sixties, in large part, were all about. The costume design, the set design, hair and makeup; it all added to the realness of the film and it’s setting. There are even photographs of Abbie Hoffman wearing the same outfits that Cohen’s Hoffman wore throughout the film. These little touches really made the film feel authentic, which is really important when telling a story like this, a story that follows true events. 

Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman next to a photo of the real Abbie Hoffman

The Chicago 7 included the two I mentioned above, in addition to Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), David Dellinger (John Caroll Lynch), Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and John Froines (Danny Flaherty). I love the way Sorkin not only stayed true to the people these characters are based on, but also made a point to really allow the viewer to understand the viewpoint of these people and what they were fighting for. If you ask me, they could not have cast the film better. Each actor that was chosen was phenomenal. Particularly, I want to talk about Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance as Abbie Hoffman. Not only did he embody Abbie Hoffman in terms of look, but he absolutely nailed his portrayal of him; the accent, the personality, the rebellious attitude, he was flawless. I would also like to applaud Mark Rylance’s performance as William Kunstler, one of the lawyers who defended the “Chicago 7” in their trial. I thought he was fantastic. He was extremely likeable and impossible not to root for. Also I feel that I have to mention the performance of Frank Langella who played judge Julius Hoffman. He played the character so well that I can’t help but look at him with a bit of disdain. The character and I’m assuming the man he was based off of, was so unlikeable that it made you want to rip your own hair out; however, that just shows what an outstanding performance Langella gave us. Without a doubt, in my opinion, this film could not have had a better group of actors playing these people. 

Another thing that I want to point out is the fact that the film was beautifully put together. My favorite part of this movie is the way it intertwines different events into one scene. What I mean by this can be seen in, what to me, was the best scene of the entire film. This scene starts around the 1:40:00 mark and plays out for approximately ten minutes of screen time. This scene begins with Tom Hayden being questioned by Kunstler about a tape from the night of the riot, where he says “if blood is going to flow, let it flow all over the city”. The scene then goes between the group as Hayden is questioned about the tape in real time, when the riot broke out, and during a talk by Abbie Hoffman that happened after the events of the tape. The scene is wonderfully pieced together and as it cuts between the three settings, the music builds and the scene starts to overlap each part. My favorite part of the scene happens around six minutes into it. In this part Hoffman is explaining what went on when they were cornered by the police. He talks about how it was the fifties inside the bar that they were trapped outside of, while it was the sixties outside the bar. This is the climax of the scene as well as the climax of the entire film. As they are taken down by the police, the music builds and it is revealed by Hayden in real time that all of this was a misunderstanding and he simply meant “if our blood is going to flow, let it flow all over the city”. The reveal is masterfully done. 

All in all, this film is my favorite of 2020. I thought it was exceptional. If you haven’t seen the film, you definitely should check it out next time you are streaming netflix!

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