Even as ex-President Donald Trump is soon to go on trial in the Senate, it is incredibly coincidental that The Trial of the Chicago 7 is widely available. Given the vast amount of time it takes to bring a story (fiction or in this case drama-documentary) to completion, there is no way the filmmakers could have realized that the highest office in the land would be charged with inciting a riot, fifty-three years after the “seven” and Black Panther Party Chairman Bobby Seale are put on trial for virtually the same offence.
In the windy city at the time of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, just months after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., and Democratic frontrunner Robert F Kennedy, coupled with the daily horrors of death after death after death in the unwinnable Vietnam War, no one should have been surprised that thousands of demonstrators would want their voices to be heard. But Chicago Mayor Richard Dailey knew better, making sure through his witless flunkies that no permits to demonstrate would be granted, knowing full well that the protesters would come anyway.
As if wanting a fight and bloodshed, Dailey ordered thousands of Chicago’s “finest” to put on their riot gear, dust off their clubs, load up the tear gas and, accordingly, incite anger into honest citizens being fed-up with so many horrific choices made by those in power.
On January 6, the United States’ Liar in Chief—along with those entrusted to protect the nation, uphold the law and exit gracefully—incited supporters to storm the Capitol—catching the police completely off guard (or perhaps, in a few cases, aided and abetted by some wilfull blindness), causing deaths, injuries, mayhem and destruction. Replace Trump’s mob with Dailey’s thugs in uniform and we have the mirror image of the ugly results of power unchecked.
Director-writer Aaron Sorkin (cross-references below) has come up with a truthful, believably imaginative, no-holds barred depiction of woeful injustice that should become required viewing for every elected official anywhere. The opening sequence is a marvel of fast-paced narrative, brilliant cinematography (Phedon Papamichael) and magical editing (weaving together the historical footage with present-takes is artfully accomplished by Alan Baumgarten. Viewers are given the back-story and major character introductions before cutting to the trial.
Sorkin is blessed with all-star cast whose members seem born to play these roles. With ample touches of Mitch McConnell-like stubbornness/pigheadedness, Frank Langella ably brings the gavel down as Judge Julius Hoffman. On the other side of the bench, Mark Rylance as lead lawyer for the defence is done up with commendable tenacity by William Kunstler; as the head of the prosecution team, Joseph Gordon-Levitt would be an easy fit into the pre-Biden White House, playing Richard Schultz (blind belief that “they’re guilty” would be cheered on as much as Rudy Giuliani’s unshakeable utterings in the face of no evidence that the “election was rigged”).
From the accused, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II delivers a knockout performance playing lawyerless Bobby Seale (rebel with a cause!); Tom Hayden has a more than able proponent in Eddie Redmayne, speaking truth to power one dead soldier at a time, and John Carroll Lynch taps into his inner Boy Scout Leader bringing sincerity and determination to the part of David Dellinger. There is not a false note in the remainder of the “seven”.
It took until 1972 for all of the convictions to be overturned by the Unites States Court of Appeals. How long will it take to convict the former leader of the free world for putting himself ahead of all others? JWR