‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ is a frustrating and uncomfortable masterpiece

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a frustrating and uncomfortable masterpiece

The year is 1968. The Democratic National Convention is taking place in Chicago and countercultural protests are lobbying for the end of the Vietnam War. Rioters, often chanting the phrase “The whole world is watching” cause disorder in the city, and the Chicago 7, consisting of Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), John Froines (Daniel Flaherty) and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), are charged by the United States government with conspiracy, crossing state lines with intent to start a riot and other various charges involving the anti-Vietnam War protests. The seven are also tried with Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a co-founder of the Black Panther Party.

The group is defended by William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) and Leonard Weinglass (Ben Shenkman), prosecuted by Richard Shultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Tom Foran (J.C. MacKenzie) and presided over by Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella).

The historical adaptation of “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, is undoubtedly an uncomfortable experience; it’s the kind of uncomfortable caused by the expertly crafted tension and blatant social and racial injustice that takes place in the courtroom. Nevertheless, the film’s take on the Chicago 7’s trial is a masterpiece.

The atmosphere created by Gordon-Levitt, MacKenzie, Rylance, Shenkman and Langella makes your stomach churn as the judge takes consistent action to favor the prosecutors and the defense tries to fight back. Particularly, the conflicted nature of Shultz, the ignorance of the judge and the frustration of Kunstler translates through the screen to the audience.

There is not a single performance in the entire ensemble of characters that isn’t immersive and convincing. Along with the aforementioned actors, Redmayne’s Tom Hayden, being logical and respectful, clashing with Baron-Cohen’s Abbie Hoffman, a more wild and free-spirited activist, is a highlight of the film’s two hour and 10 minute run-time. These differences are particularly highlighted in their respective behaviors in the courtroom. While Hayden tries to fight the charges with a level of professionalism, Hoffman continuously behaves disrespectfully, often resulting in an outburst of anger from the judge. For instance, while Hayden stands for the judge when the rest of the defense sits after a day where he is particularly unfair, Hoffman and Rubin dress up in judicial garb on another day in order to mock the judge.

Arguably the most unjust part of the entire movie is the judge’s treatment of Abdul-Mateen II’s Bobby Seale. Although the judge’s treatment of Kunstler and Weinglass is atrocious, his blatant racial bias towards Seale is indescribably frustrating.

Without giving too much away, the judge denies Seale basic constitutional rights in the courtroom including the right to defend himself in court and his freedom of speech. But by far, the most horrendous action takes place halfway through the movie that causes the defense and even the prosecution to ask for a mistrial. I won’t go into detail about the event since it’s a scene that needs to be watched first-hand.

Additionally, the film captures the mood of the late 1960’s perfectly through its cinematography and music. The simultaneous free-spirited, angry and passionate nature of the protests are reflected through a mix of funk and intense orchestrations. The wide shots on the altercations between the police and the protestors illustrate the violent and passionate nature of these moments in history.

So whether seeking an intense retelling of a climax of the anti-Vietnam War sentiment, or wanting to experience the enjoyable frustrating feeling that this movie offers or simply looking for a movie with expert storytelling and phenomenal acting, I highly recommend Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

Grade: A+