“This is the academy awards of protests and as far as i’m concerned, it’s an honour just to be nominated” – Lee Weiner
Courtroom dramas appear to be as ingrained into American culture as The Star-Spangled Banner, baseball and grilled-cheese. And the trial of ‘The Chicago Seven’ is perhaps one of the most famous in American history.
Together they were Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines and Lee Weiner. All were charged with conspiracy of crossing state lines to incite rioting, amongst other charges, related to an anti-Vietnam protest. Now, where this trial gets ethically immoral, is with the eighth person that was initially a part of the lineup. Bobby Seale, American activist and co-founder of the Black Panther Party, who was later dismissed after the harsh and improper actions carried out in court.
Despite being set predominately in a house of justice, not a single moment felt as if justice would be fairly served. From early on in the case, you get the sense that it’s being handled horribly. From defendants not being given legal representation and not being given the right to speak freely, to the incredibly one-sided leniency in regards to the treatment of the witnesses. Although it seems fairly clear which moments writer and director Aaron Sorkin, has plucked out for dramatic effect, the handling of the case in general, just feels completely corrupted.
Had it not been for the contemptible fashion choices of the 1960’s, made up of tie dye, bell-bottoms and headbands, you might be willing to believe this would be based on current affairs. Racism, injustice and political control all play key components of the court proceedings. And unfortunately, all things that still apply today.
Sorkin’s magnificent script is left in the hands of some great performers. Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, do best in regards to the defendants. Mark Rylance and Joseph Gordon-Levitt battle it out as opposing attorneys. Frank Langella as the dubious judge, Julius Hoffman (no relation to one of the defendants as is hilariously stated). And even Michael Keaton himself rocks up to deliver some of the film’s finest moments, as former government official, Ramsey Clark.
As is usually the case with courtroom dramas, the gaps are filled in way of either flashbacks or jumps in time. We get to see a snippet of the plans that led to the riots in its emphatic opening sequence, and between its heavy debated acts, we get to see the events leading to the arrest and trial of these men.
Whilst it does have that typical ‘us against the corrupt system’ message, it blends witty and often humorous writing, with its far more sombre, anarchic tone. Making it a wonderfully balanced ordeal. What was expected to be yet another demonstration of impropriety within the American justice system, becomes far more thanks to its impressive script and elevating cast ensemble. “The whole world is watching” is what we hear from the protesters gathering up outside the courthouse, and watching Sorkin’s still relevant historic piece, is exactly what the world should be doing.