In an article on The Trial of the Chicago 7 in Smithsonian Magazine, Aaron Sorkin says “this isn’t a biopic. You will get the essence of these real-life people and the kernel of who they are as human beings, not the historical facts.” So, who was at fault? History vs Hollywood thinks “both sides are at fault to varying degrees.” Interestingly, Sorkin allows Abbie Hoffman to evade the answer whether he was hoping for a confrontation with the police. Most assuredly, all can agree the trial was a farce, and Chicago was not prepared to handle protestors.
As always, Sorkin is a gifted writer. But, will you be entertained by The Trial of the Chicago 7? In an unusual comment by History vs Hollywood, it concludes “in the end, some on the political far left may undoubtedly embrace the film, while others will likely find it an unsavory reminder of the widespread violence, looting, and destruction currently plaguing American cities, which is far from protesting.” For me, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is an unsavory reminder of the violence of 1967-1969. “What’s next” was on everyone’s mind. Certainly, that colors my assessment of the film. While some parts are Sorkin-good, some parts feels Sorkin-strained. I give The Trial of the Chicago 7 3.5 Gavels and it receives a 94% Rotten Tomatoes rating with a 7.9/10 IMDb score.
In the summer of 1968, the SDS, the Yippies, MOBE, and the Black Panthers descend upon Chicago. They are to protest the nomination of Hubert Humphrey as the Democratic candidate for President. All were certain that he was no different than Richard Nixon. Denied permits to protest anywhere near the convention, 800 marched to demand the release of Tom Hayden from the Chicago jail. That set in motion an order to clear the park which resulted in hundreds of injured. Five months later, the new Attorney General wants the Chicago 7 tried for crossing state lines to incite a riot. Defense Attorney William Kunstler is about to become a household name.
For a movie on a serious topic, Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong (Serenity) make quite the pair as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Constantly making jokes at inappropriate times causes friction with the more serious Tom Hayden, acted by Eddie Redmayne (The Aeronauts). The lead prosecutor, Richard Schultz, played by Joseph Gordon-Leavitt (Project Power), has some doubts about the proceedings. That seems highly unlikely.
Bobby Seale may be the most interesting character of all in The Trial of the Chicago 7. After all, he was only in Chicago for four hours, but still swept up in the indictments. Then, his attorney gets sick, a postponement denied, and refused an opportunity to act as his own counsel. Throughout it all, he remains relatively calm (if 16 citations in contempt is calm) until the 89th day of the trial. Frankly, I’m surprised he lasted that long.
The Wall Street Journal mirrors my mixed emotions. “Sorkin’s film is sometimes eloquent, and sustained for the most part by his flair for hyperverbal entertainment. Yet it also diminishes its aura of authenticity with dubious inventions, and muddles its impact by taking on more history than it can handle.” It is sad that this review is more about Sorkin and his leanings rather than the true story of a major event in history. Sorkin is that sort of writer.