New to Netflix: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Image Courtesy of Always Be Watching

By Katie Van Lew

“Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read, ‘Vietnam.’”

The Trial of the Chicago 7, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin portrays the original Chicago 8 (later, the Chicago 7) in their fight for absolution. In the case of the United States vs. David T Dellinger [et. al.], the Chicago 8 were charged with conspiracy and incitement to riot. The political activists, who were anti-Vietnam War,  congregated in Chicago,  Illinois at the National Democratic Convention in 1968 to protest against the Vietnam War. The activists indicted were Bobby Seale (National Chairman of the Black Panther Party), Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin (founding members of the Youth International Party, also known as the “Yippies”), Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis  (leaders of the Students for a Democratic Society), David Dellinger (leader of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam,  also known as “Mobe”), Lee Weiner, and John Froines. 

Sorkin’s movie is the diamond in the rough of the year 2020. Captivating from the beginning, the introduction flashes between historic scenes, including President Johnson announcing the rise in the number of men drafted, Martin Luther King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, and news snippets of the increasing casualties of men during the Vietnam War. After establishing the historic time period, the camera cuts and weaves between each member of the Chicago 8 going about their day,  preparing for their peaceful protests at the National Democratic Convention in Chicago. 

On September 16, 1969, the Chicago 8, entered the courtroom for the first time, where they would remain for several months.  The movie captured the explosiveness of the courtroom,  often as a result of tensions between Bobby Seale and unfair rulings by Judge Julius Hoffman. Seale, played by actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, delivers a powerful performance of persevering through oppressive institutions and seeking justice even if it means standing alone. Seale, frequently interjecting throughout the court hearing, was instructed to be “taken care of.” Ejected from the courtroom, Seale was beaten and gagged before being readmitted to the court. Despite being on the opposing side, Prosecutor Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) consults with Judge Hoffman and persuades to declare Seale as a mistrial.

 Ultimately, Schultz’s request was met, and thus, seven remained.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is brilliant in that it encompasses the uniting of different forces for the amelioration of America. The more serious and educated of the activists, such as Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch ), Hayden (Eddie Redmayne ), and Davis (Alex Sharp), are focused on tackling the revolution by intellect and politics, focusing on pushing the Democratic nomination so that issues of poverty, education, and equality are prioritized.  The most captivating of the Chicago 7, are Yippie leaders Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), who draw a stark contrast to their educated comrades, as their calm composure intertwined with their rapid and provocative humor constitutes a show-stopping performance.  Whereas Dellinger, Hayden, and Davis are focused on the internal matter of real-life issues that the revolution raises,  the Yippie leaders are focused more so on the external appearance, giving over the top and flamboyant performances, thus becoming the faces of the cultural revolution.

Sacha Baron Cohen, who is most notable for his role in the cult-classic Borat, is nearly unrecognizable in his role as Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman. Cohen is absolutely brilliant in his role as Hoffman, giving the audience a charming, yet egotistical political activist with the exterior of a hippie, but with the interior of an intellectual and propelling component of the revolution.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is shockingly brilliant; the plot parallels social issues that plagues the United States today, during the pandemic of racism and police brutality. The actors deliver a performance of what it means to be resilient in the face of adversity and the importance of coming together to fight for a common cause. It is explosive from beginning to end, and is successful in that it blends drama, history, and humor to one of the most notorious, rebel groups in history.

This is the movie of 2020.

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