Was it necessary for Americans to enter Vietnam? Was the war justified? All these questions, despite burning, do not give a specific answer. However, when we look at the actual cause and young lives being lost for nothing, there will be no need for second-guessing. Thus, who would blame activists for protesting on the streets, demanding the complete withdrawal of soldiers who should not have entered a country that had nothing to do with their own, at least, directly?
Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” offers an emotionally charged court drama evolving around an infamous group of eight people, shortened to seven, who must stand the trial as they get prosecuted for the riots that occurred during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois. If there was a chance for them to defend themselves, it disappears with the appearance of Judge Julius Hoffman (the exceptional Frank Langella), who does not hide his blatant hatred towards the activists, turning the court proceedings itself into a farce.
The opening sequence of the film introduces us to seven defendants – Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis, John Froines (Danny Flaherty), and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), as they prepare to march towards the RNC in Chicago. What they don’t know yet is that they are soon going to be charged by the Federal government with conspiracy, including inciting the riot, and their connection with the anti-Vietnam War protests. Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), as the eighth defendant, is perhaps the most chaotic one who creates disruption in court, making an already unhinged Judge go off the rails.
Their lawyer, William Kunstler, has a difficult task as he defends the seven against the Federal prosecutors in the face of a young and promising Richard Schultz who, unlike the General Attorney, has a moral compass. However, the highlight of the film is the talent Frank Langella showcases as the most biased judge you will ever meet on the silver screen. Second special mention must belong to Michael Keaton as a former Attorney General – trust me, his short appearance is something you would never want to miss.
As for the film itself, most court dramas are either predictable or boring, but Sorkin turns his film into an exciting journey filled with funny scenes, thanks to Sacha Baron Cohen and his well-developed character, Abbie Hoffman. From start to end, it’s a roller coaster of feelings filled with anger and disappointment at the same time. All those feelings have nothing to do with the quality of the film as it’s truly exceptional. Due to the actual events back in 1968 mainly occurring in court, with flashback scenes, we are brought closer to the events that lead to the arrest of young people who wanted nothing but the return of American soldiers to their homes.
That said, as someone who had the chance to see the film in advance, I must say I had to rewatch it three times to fully enjoy it, as the first two previews were not satisfactory enough. And that’s not because you may miss something during the first time but because it’s too good to not rewatch it again. It’s a fast-paced film that offers an outstanding concept, great direction and screenwriting, interesting and richly described characters, and the editing, which is a pure delight. Generally, I should not be forcing my opinion on you so as to not to regret it afterwards if you did not like the film. However, with Sorkin’s piece that’s not the case. Because I know, as an intelligent viewer and as an individual who likes intelligent cinema, this film has a treat stored for you; and for you to try it, you must see the film first.
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