The Trial Of The Chicago 7 review: Aaron Sorkin's period courtroom drama has uncanny relevance to today
Aaron Sorkin's second directorial has relevance not just to the current situation in the US, but closer home as well
What does a political American courtroom drama set in the 60s have to do with someone miles and years apart in India? A lot, as it turns out. The much-delayed Trial Of The Chicago 7, which marks the second directorial of star screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, has been aptly released just a few weeks before the US Presidential elections. What happens in the film’s courtroom is not just reflective of the current systematic dismantling of democratic institutions in the US, it also has an uncanny resemblance to what is happening here in India. Perhaps, this universality is the beauty of Trial Of The Chicago 7.
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Eddie Redmayne
The two-hour film predominantly shows the proceedings of the infamous trial that prosecuted eight anti-war activists — Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne ), Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), David Dellinger (John Carol Lynch), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), and John Froines (Daniel Flaherty) — for allegedly inciting riots and violence in front of the 35th Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. The protest against the Vietnam War turned violent after a clash between the citizens and the police, killing one and injuring hundreds. The following year, the incoming Republican Government and its president Richard Nixon wanted to make an example of the eight, which resulted in an unfair trial presided over by prejudiced Judge Julius J Hoffman (Frank Langella).
Though the oppressive system is the villain here, Frank Langella as the hostile judge becomes the embodiment of it. With his brilliant performance, Langella makes you hate this judge who seems to have no iota of remorse. The whole sequence of Bobby Seale, the leader of The Black Panther Party, getting gagged by the police under the judge's order is a stark reminder of how things can go wrong even in a democracy when the wrong person is in charge.
Despite the sombre mood, the film makes you laugh at several places thanks to Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong as the seemingly frivolous Yippies Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. On the other end of this liberal spectrum is the ever-serious leader of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Tom Hayden played by an aptly-cast Eddie Redmayne. In spite of being on the same side, there is an ongoing rift among the eight. Sorkin uses these conflicts to subtly reveal the intentions of the individuals. So, you are not seeing the story of ‘The Chicago 8’ but of eight individuals raging against the machine.
In essence, The Trial Of The Chicago 7 is a story about prejudice. But, it is not just about the prejudice of the government against certain individuals or the discrimination of Bobby Seale by the judge. It is also about the contempt Tom Hayden has for the Yippies. And that is why it is resounding to hear Abbie Hoffman tell Tom, “We are not going to jail because of what we did, we are going to jail for who we are.”