“We carried certain ideas across state lines. Not machine guns or drugs or little girls. Ideas. When we crossed from New York to New Jersey to Pennsylvania to Ohio to Illinois, we had certain ideas. And for that, we were gassed, beaten, arrested, and put on trial.”
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a telling of a significant historical moment reflecting a divisive nation similar to the one we currently live in now… if you live in the United States. I racked my brain whether or not I should publish this review at such a late time. I initially viewed Chicago 7 back when it originally came out on Netflix back in October, but for some reason it failed to strike me as the impactful marketing said it would. I believe that a movie that is so grandeur, so incredibly talked about, should be amazing. One might say, a masterpiece. However, Chicago 7 is neither amazing or a masterpiece, and will leave you with your eyes hurting from the constant eye-rolling.
Chicago 7 is set in 1968. The Democratic National Convention is afoot, and Presidential Nominee, Hubert H. Humphrey, is set to take the stage and accept his nomination. But the convention doesn’t go smooth, as the Vietnam protestors flood the streets, demanding a stop to the innocent men being sent to an unjust war. So with leaders like Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), the group is violently confronted by Chicago police, and the members of the protests are thrown behind bars. The trial is a media frenzy — becoming more heated as time passes. The public’s support waivers, and the men become at odds with each other, only to find out they must unify to make an impact in this world.
The stories of Vietnam aren’t lost on me. My father told me about his childhood friend who was drafted. The friend returned, but only for the PTSD to completely take hold of him as he would never be the same again. So with that being said, I wanted Chicago 7 to ring true — to have that impact that would make me feel numb at the horrors that these men and women were protesting. However, I feel very little as the end credits roll. Aaron Sorkin, who’s outstanding writing has been behind several of my favorite films, has a huge problem here. And the inconsistences with Chicago 7, fall heavily on his shoulders.
I’ll get to Sorkin’s troubles in a bit, but before, let’s get into the characters. There’s an array of characters within the film. It really is an ensemble at work here. However, some actors shine and some actors don’t. Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, and Mark Rylance are the pivotal pieces within the story. Their roles may be significant, but there’s no sense of comradery between these men — they act like nothing more than strangers. The forced “sappy unity” that takes place between them, feels empty because all of the characters are nothing but hollow shells of the real-life people they’re portraying.
If you crave a magnification on the racial injustices of black men and women during this period, you’ll rarely find that satisfaction here. One of the men on trial, Bobby Seale, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, seems as though he’s thrown in at the last minute. His background is nonexistent, and if you decide to watch the film, you’ll understand why. However, even when he has his moments of significance, the scenes are ushered away, and hardly any details are given about the conclusion to his story. The actions taken by the judge are harsh, but are heavily watered down during the film. There are a few parts that cause the other men on trial to look at the court proceeding through Seale’s eyes. But for what point, if such points are ultimately glossed over?
Several screenwriters have tried to mimic Sorkin’s talent for lengthy conversations between characters, but sadly fall short with such undertakings. Sorkin began his career with the political thriller, A Few Good Men, marking his entrance not only into film, but into the political realm of his career. This is Sorkin’s bread and butter. With other successful projects like The West Wing and even Newsroom, his political films have paid off in more ways than one. But somewhere along the lines, Chicago 7 fails to make as big of an impact as the aforementioned films. Sorkin hogs the main duties for himself by both directing and writing the film. His last directorial effort, Molly’s Game, showed his problematic directing, and once again it rears its ugly head. Sorkin has bitten off more than he can chew by taking on a goliath such as Chicago 7.
By the end, if by any chance you’re still adequately hanging on to what conclusion this movie can bring, you’ll find politically cheesy, overly patriotic, mush. I point to the overdramatic way Frank Langella, who plays Judge Hoffman, slams his gavel down at the end — as if cartoonish or comical. Chicago 7 loses all of its important messaging with its missed staged direction and poor casting. It offers little to a time period that has been told before.
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Written and Directed by: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella, and Michael Keaton