REVIEW: ‘Trial of Chicago 7’ is compelling entertainment

(Sacha Baron Cohen is one of the 7 in Sorkin’s new film)

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a compelling courtroom drama that is filled with crisp dialogue that debuted on Netflix a month before the election. While Trump’s Justice Department labeled the film as political propaganda, writer/director Aaron Sorkin’s latest shows how much has not changed when it comes to our judicial system.

Up to fifteen thousand protestors gathered, much less than protest leaders had hoped for, and they were quickly surrounded by hundreds of police and National Guardsmen under orders to keep the protestors “under control.”

That same afternoon, a teenage boy climbed a flagpole. The police moved in swiftly to arrest him as protestors rallied to his aid, assaulting the officers. Hoping to quell further violence,  a protest organizer reminded police that a legal protest permit had been obtained and requested that all police leave the park. In response, the officers moved in and beat that same organizer unconscious. 

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The police beat protestors with clubs and fists. Despite the hostility, anti-violence protest leaders still supported protesting peacefully. Sounds like something that happened over the summer of 2020, right? It’s not. It happened in 1968, in Chicago, IL, during the Democratic National Convention and they were protesting America’s involvement in the Vietnam conflict. 

Seven protest organizers and one of the co-founders of the black panther party, known as the “Chicago 8” were charged with federal crimes and stood trial for those alleged crimes, known as The Trial of the Chicago 7. 

Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) was the one organizer who was beaten unconscious by police and David Dillinger (John Carroll Lynch) was the organizer who pleaded for peace during their organized protest after the police incited the riot. Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), John Froines Daniel Flaherty, and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) are the other five of the seven defendants and of course, Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), original co-founder of the Black Panther Party, who had his civil rights violated repeatedly throughout the trial, was the 8th defendant. 

Even though the defendants barely knew one another, they were charged by the Nixon administration with conspiracy and incitement to riot. Sound familiar? They were presented to the public as undesirables, all intent on bringing down the United States.

While the film is informative, it is clearly not a documentary, as writer and director Sorkin has taken creative liberties, but it still successfully illustrates how broken our justice system is in America.

In addition to the Chicago 8 (including Bobby Seale), the immense ensemble cast includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt as prosecuting attorney Richard Schultz, Mark Rylance as defense attorney, William Kunsler, Michael Keaton as former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Frank Langella as the racist and corrupt judge, Julius Hoffman, and many more. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the infamous Abbie Hoffman’s unique diction, you might have found Sacha Baron Cohen’s accent throughout the film to be a bit distracting, however it was accurate. He did an excellent job of portraying the bombastic political activist and writer Abbie Hoffman. Considering his penchant for political stunts himself, Cohen was remarkably well cast in this particular role.

John Carroll Lynch, Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gorden Levitt, Michael Keaton, and Mark Rylance also give fantastic performances. With such an enormous cast of characters, it’s difficult to stand out from the rest, and these gentlemen all gave compelling and memorable performances, equally as entertaining as Sacha Baron Cohen’s.

The Trial of the Chicago 7, co-produced by Amblin, never has a dull moment and is even funny at times. It’s well written (It’s Aaron Sorkin of course), well directed, and well done on every level, which is why we are giving The Trial of the Chicago 7 a verdict of REEL FILM TO WATCH.

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Joia DaVida reports on the entertainment business in both Chicago and Los Angeles.