If you’re a history nerd and a fan of Netflix, I have the perfect movie recommendation for you: The Trial of the Chicago 7.
In 1968, massive riots broke out in Chicago in protest of the Vietnam War resulting in the trial of eight men – Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale. Their trial would be known as the “Trial of the Chicago Seven.”
You might be looking at me and saying “now wait a minute, there were eight men, not seven!” I’m not crazy or severely bad at math – that’s part of the story. If you’re studying history, maybe you already know. But don’t worry if you’re not – you don’t need to be a history buff to appreciate good cinematography and a thrilling story.
The movie introduces a background of each character and their relation to the Chicago riots:
Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) were founders of the Students for a Democratic Society, and were shown giving speeches to encourage their fellow students to travel to Chicago to protest during the Democratic National Convention.
Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Rubin (Jeremy Strong), the “yippies” of the group (members and founders of the Youth International Party), were shown openly discussing the Convention, while David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch) discussed the importance of remaining peaceful to his wife and young child.
Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), co-founder of the Black Panther Party, was shown preparing for his speech while a woman urged him not to go. Before leaving, he grabs a gun to protect himself from the anticipated violence.
The following scene shows a courtroom with the six men from the previous scenes, now with Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and John Froines (Daniel Flaherty). Although part of the original defendants, they were eventually acquitted by the jury. They were, as explained by Baron Cohen’s character, “give-back[s]” so that the jury can “feel better about finding the rest of [the defendants] guilty.”
The opening clips are fast and quick-paced, as thrilling and dramatic music plays hauntingly with each plot twist. Looming in the distance is one word – Chicago. The audience is to understand that everything in the opening scene is to prepare the characters for Chicago. But what happens exactly? Why are they being put on trial?
There is implication and allusion, but nothing is addressed. For the most part, the audience is left in the dark.
With each new testimony, more is revealed about the event that ominously hangs over our heads. In a movie so historical, it’s immensely more impressive how dramatic and thrilling the film is. It keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. Who’s telling the truth? What is the truth?
The movie progresses, eventually resulting in the decision of a mistrial for Bobby Seale, after Abdul-Mateen’s character was gagged and bound in the courtroom in a blatant demonstration of cruel racism and discrimination – one of the most climactic moments of the film.
The cinematography, flashbacks, scenery, costumes, and plot earned it several awards in 2020-2021, such as Best Screenplay (Golden Globes) and Best Acting Ensemble (Critics Choice Movie Award).
It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Song at the 2020 Academy Awards.
Each actor played their role to perfection – both with humor and solemnity. Just when you think there can be no surprises from the characters, they change right before your eyes and are shown in entirely new lights, the most notable example from Sacha Baron Cohen’s character, Abbie Hoffman.
Hoffman was first portrayed as a long-haired hippie, who initially showed up to trial high. Hayden explains how immature and irresponsible Hoffman is, and urges the others never to look to him as an example of what a revolutionary should be. He throws insult after insult at Hoffman, calling him and his followers “a bunch of stoned, lost, disrespectful, foulmouthed, lawless losers.”
Hoffman argues that “it’s a revolution. We may have to hurt somebody’s feelings.”
As the story progresses, the tables turn. His levelheadedness, devotion, and quick wit show how competent he is to inspire, encourage, and carry out a revolution. Hoffman becomes the example of what a true revolutionary looks like, and takes the stand in one of the final scenes of the film.
Although it strayed slightly from the actual transcript of the case, actor Baron Cohen’s most notable quote from the movie came when he was put on the stand, with the line “I’ve never been on trial for my thoughts before.”
The Trial of the Chicago 7, directed by Aaron Sorkin, is a movie about corruption, truth, morality, loyalty, betrayal, and social justice. It’s a passionate and moving story about continuing to stand up for what’s right, even when others try to push you down. It’s also an ugly part of our history as a country, when corrupt governments limited the freedom of speech and fought unjust wars.
As of October 2nd, 2020, The Trial of the Chicago 7 has been available on Netflix. A simple search will bring the movie into your home and viewing space in less than a second. If you don’t have Netflix, you can still have access to the movie by using other streaming services, including most recently, YouTube. If you’re interesting in reading more about the actual trial, you can find a copy of the transcript using this link.
The message of the film is still prevalent today, as we see our law officials and governments fall victim to corruption. The major takeaway is to always fight for what you believe is right, as we continue to see with marches, protests, and speeches. The Chicago Seven, and the film that tells their story, reminds us about our own democratic values and rights as citizens that we should always seek to uphold.
So, once again, if you’re looking for a new movie to stream on Netflix, I highly suggest that you watch The Trial of the Chicago 7 – you won’t be disappointed.