‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ strikes a chord with immense precision

Written By Jordyn Hronec, Editor-in-Chief

4/5 Globes


One of Netflix’s latest releases, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” directed by Aaron Sorkin, is not an easy watch, by any means. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the watch. Because it is.

The film is a re-telling of the true trial of the Chicago 7, which as the film portrays, started off as the Chicago 8. The eight in question are: Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Lee Weiner, John Froines and Bobby Seale, whose trial was eventually severed from the other seven. These eight men belonged to several different left-wing progressive groups, including The Black Panthers, the Youth International Party (or ‘Yippies’), the Students for a Democratic Society and the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. These eight men were put on trial, and despite most of them not knowing each other, they were charged with conspiring to incite violent riots during anti-Vietnam War protests in the summer of 1968 in Chicago specifically during and around the Democratic National Convention. 

The director, Sorkin, is known for his courtroom portrayals, and may be most notably known for producing the stage script for “To Kill a Mockingbird.” His court writing prowess is fully on display in this film, as it does not shy away from using real, complex legal language.

The film also sticks close to the real history it represents. And it doesn’t really need to deviate, as the real 1969 trial featured real courtroom dramatics that resulted in the judge, Julius Hoffman, often handing out charges of contempt of court to both the defendants and their legal representation.

However, the film’s commitment to realism, as well as its talent, is what truly makes it a standout. 

Tom Hayden, one of the Chicago 7, is played by Eddie Redmayne. And this is yet another film appearance where Redmayne proves, beyond any doubt, that he possesses incredible range as an actor. His reserve and melancholy facial features perfectly portray Hayden in the film, who is characterized as being more obedient and often more calculated than the rest of the 7.  His character also gets the privilege of providing the twist shift of tone at the end of the film that is so obviously meant to raise many an impressed eyebrow.

Sacha Baron Cohen absolutely shines in his standout performance of Abbie Hoffman, another one of the 7 and one of the founders of the Yippies. Cohen plays off of Redmayne’s reserved, academic poise perfectly in more of a rough-around-the-edges, light-hearted role. However, it is worth noting that Hoffman has his own showing of seemingly bleak humanity as he recounts his sour relationship with the government while taking the stand.

This film has several scenes that are incredibly breath-taking, but not for the reasons one might think. There are no absolutely stunning visuals present, seeing as most of the film takes place in a rather dark and monotone courtroom. But the scenes where police violently beat and tear gas protesters before forcing them into custody, are something to behold, especially following the summer of 2020. These scenes feature violent and sometimes bloody imagery, so viewers should be wary of potentially triggering content. But these scenes also drive home the fact that without systematic reform, history is doomed to repeat itself.

Some courtroom scenes also contain potentially triggering content, specifically regarding Bobby Seale, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, the eighth defendant at the beginning of the trial and one of the co-founders of The Black Panthers. The film portrays Judge Julius Hoffman realistically, right down to his racist treatment of Seale that eventually led to his mistrial. Abdul-Mateen II does a fantastic job playing Seale though, and he delivers on some of the film’s most passionate and gratifying moments.

Overall, this film is well worth the watch. It can be difficult to follow at times, as it does not utilize linear storytelling, but rather often portrays scenes in flashback as the trial itself crawls on. And it can be difficult to view at times. But like the current cultural moment in 2020, one mustn’t look away from the revolution that is taking place. 

As some of the characters must come to terms with during the film, a cultural revolution and a real revolution are often one and the same. And this film, though set in the ‘60s, forces viewers to think about culture and live in the full weight of the present moment. “The Trial of The Chicago 7,” paints social justice and government corruption in a light that is not new, but a light that is entirely visible and difficult to ignore.