Movie Review: The Trial of the Chicago 7
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a courtroom drama about eight men accused of starting the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. Though the evidence is clearly in the men's favor, it's obvious that the political establishment has a desired result and will work the system in order to get that result. The film stars Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Shenkman, J.C. MacKenzie, Frank Langella, Danny Flaherty, Noah Robbins, John Doman, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Caitlin FitzGerald, Alice Kremelberg, and Michael Keaton. The film is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. The film is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
This film makes me furious. Not furious at the filmmakers, the filmmaking, the actors or anything like that, but with the fact that the United States criminal justice system is and always has been easily manipulated by those with power. I kept looking over at my absentee ballot that came in the mail as it does every year for special elections, city elections, state elections, and federal elections. You better be damn sure I did my research on every judge and justice I'm allowed to vote for. As another great writer put it, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."
I write another great writer because Aaron Sorkin is one of the greatest living screenwriters. I have heard complaints that his films seem far too "written" like the people who are speaking don't sound like regular people. To that I say, why do you want to listen to a dumbed down version of the incredibly intelligent people on trial here? I love the quickness of their reactions, the perfect way they articulate themselves and the grand, bombastic statements. This movie never feels like it's over two hours of run time because of the incredible writing and pacing of Sorkin's material.
There's always an interesting note when people likely look at the title of the film because eight men were on trial in the courtroom. History and the people at the time called them the Chicago 7 because of who Bobby Seale was and what he represents. Aaron Sorkin never treats Seale as the token player history paints him as or the token player the government offered up to scare the jury into convicting. In fact, Sorkin devotes a great deal of time to Seale and the true miscarriage of justice that was his being on trial while denied representation.
One of the most dramatic things that happened in the real trial is one of the most dramatic things to happen in the film as well. As Bobby Seale, completely fed up with the trial in which he is denied his rights and mourning the assassination of colleague and friend Fred Hampton, stands up and refuses to sit back down, he's led to a backroom and is taken care of as Judge Hoffman orders. The scene cuts between the silent courtroom to the backroom where Seale is harshly subdued, chained, and physically gagged. As he's led back into the courtroom the looks of shock are palpable. The scene following it is just as good, but the incredible combination of editor Alan Baumgarten's quick cuts, cinematographer Phedon Papamichael's incredible shot composition to show the chaos of Seale's gagging and the stillness of the courtroom, and Sorkin's exquisite use of space and movement as director is just spot on. It's an infuriating and powerful scene.
That scene couldn't be as powerful if it didn't have a stand out, phenomenal performance to back it up. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II turns in a gripping performance as Bobby Seale. He's able to get into the character with tremendous depth and empathy. The whole cast is beyond excellent, a murderer's row of incredible performances, but Adbul-Mateen is giving it his absolute all in every scene. He's been in the spotlight a lot and I hope he continues on this trajectory because he has an undeniable talent.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is terrific, heart-breaking, infuriating, aggravating and inspiring. I could dissect this film in every way, digging into every facet, but I want you to see it. I want you to digest this film. I want you to let this film sink in. Know that a judge and a government can manipulate, can subvert, and control situations for their favor. Watch this film and know that it's not any worse and it's not any better either. Watch this film.