The Trial of the Chicago 7

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

5/5 (1)

Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, Lee Weiner, John Froines, and Abbie Hoffman are known as The Chicago Seven. Now part of history’s prism, many of us would agree that they are considered heroes fighting against the insanity of the Vietnam War and standing for free unbridled expression at a time when it was under attack. A new film directed by Aaron Sorkin is an episodic analysis of their trial, when Hayden was accused of starting a supposed riot during the 1968 Democratic Convention.

Though the film is in many ways a by the book account of what occurred, it is brisk, lively and peppered with fine performances. Assistant DA Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) meets with Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell (John Doman) to review the charges. Mitchell wants the highest charges possible, since he was disrespected by Ramsey Clark (Michael Keaton) under the former LBJ administration. Schultz does not think the men deserve harsh punishment but his hands are tied.

Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II ), a member of the Black Panther party, is brought in under false charges of murder, though not part of the group, in the hope of getting an easier conviction.

William Kuntsler (Mark Rylance) is the Seven’s lawyer who quips dryly.

Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Rubin (Jeremy Strong) have the edge both in the film and in history. They effectively trade barbs and joke and their humor always strikes its target.

Horror ensues when Seale is beaten and gagged. The trial becomes an abhorrent event.

Eddie Redmayne is terrific as the emotional yet serious Hayden. But most will agree that the life of the party is Cohen as the inimitable Abbie Hoffman who once tried to levitate the Pentagon with the force of his mental spirit.

Frank Langella plays a ghoulish stentorian judge, a man one grows to despise.

The beating of Seale makes difficult viewing but the film is vital and spirited and a fine primer for all those interested in the very serious, if sometimes comic, progressiveness of The Chicago Seven. In times of political and cultural oppression we can all take comfort in the fact that these men walked the earth as wondrous and mercurial beings, not all that long ago. May we never forget their spiritual, and stern well-intentioned actions.

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