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REVIEW: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Image courtesy of Vanity Fair

If 1960s America and its culture could be encapsulated into a single film, it would be The Trial of the Chicago 7. The film recalls the events of one of the most pivotal trials during the fight by young Americans to end the war in Vietnam. The Trial of the Chicago 7 tackles various issues, such as racism, sexism and the injustices that were so prominent throughout the trial. Despite its seemingly ambitious aims, the film is able to perfectly capture the difficulties faced by those on trial and American society as a whole.

Being a History student, I might be biased when I say that this was one of my favourite releases of 2020. The 60s, especially in America, was the decade for new ways of thinking and a breeding ground for young people protesting against their parent’s views. Director Aaron Sorkin is able to capture the strained relationship between the anti-war movement and the new Republican government through this single trial. In spite of this event being only a glimpse into a complex period of history, Sorkin links the variety of causes that each movement represents together so succinctly that the film somehow manages to do every single cause justice. The burden that Sorkin takes on pays off greatly and offers an impressive exploration into the mentality of young Americans. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is often pertinent to situations occurring today, especially in Trump’s America and the riots that have been sparked across the country.

The film begins by introducing each of the leaders that end up on trial, including Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) of Students for a Democratic Society, Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) of the Youth International Party, Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) of the Black Panthers and David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch) of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. Whilst using what could possibly be a jarring technique, the converging of speech and mash-up of scenes is implemented perfectly. Straightaway, the differences between the groups and their strategies for achieving the common aim of ending the war in Vietnam are evidently clear. This allows for the natural increase in tension within the group, especially between Tom Hayden and Abbie Hoffman. As the trial continues, cracks within the group become more apparent, as they fight between what would best for their personal interests and what would benefit the movement most. The film accurately highlights the stresses of this internal battle that tear the group apart. 

The ensemble of actors that make up the group have been cast flawlessly. Every single character is well developed and none of them fell flat. None of them felt out of place or were made redundant, despite the time restrictions of it being a film. Although 2020 was a tough year for everyone, it was definitely brightened up by Sacha Baron Cohen in this film. The comedy was written carefully and with such a sensitivity that it worked immaculately well within the context of the film. 

What is often a challenge for historical interpretations in film is being able to bring a new and interesting perspective to a story that has been told many times before. The combination of impeccable actors and the storytelling genius of Sorkin allows for an insightful watch. If you have previous knowledge of this trial, you are aware of its displeasing ending. However, it brings about an extremely emotive message. The powerful image of Tom Hayden throwing away his possible shortened prison sentence to read out the names of those who had passed away in the Vietnam War since the beginning of the trial is one that will stay with you. This raw and simple writing creates a sense of achievement and rounds the film off perfectly. 
Overall, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is an incredibly clever film that carefully discusses issues that have plagued America for decades. Its sensitive comedy and sharp writing makes for a clever film that highlights a new perspective of the 60s and the difficulties that the anti-war movement faced.

Currently available to stream on Netflix

By Amy Britton