Aaron Sorkin needs no introduction, but in case anyone has forgotten, let us remind you that he is the man who wrote the screenplays for such films as A Few Good Men, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, Moneyball, The Man Who Changed Everything, Steve Jobs, as well as the man responsible for The West Wing and The Newsroom. Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game, based on the memoirs of Molly Bloom, an athlete and organizer of illegal poker games, did not go unnoticed.
The idea of a movie about the protests during the Democratic Party convention in Chicago in August 1968, an important event in the struggle for civil rights in the United States, was in Sorkin’s head in 2006, after a conversation with Steven Spielberg, who was interested in making such a movie. Already in the summer of 2007, Sorkin had a script ready and offered it to Spielberg. The famous director agreed to shoot and produce the picture. Even then, the role of Abbie Hoffman was approved Sacha Baron Cohen, the leader of the Black Panthers Bobby Seale was to play Will Smith, and the role of Tom Hayden, one of the leaders of the National Mobilization Committee to end the war in Vietnam (Mob), was to go to Heath Ledger. Unfortunately, a strike by the Writers Guild of America in November 2007 halted work on the movie. In early 2008, Heath Ledger died.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 movie meaning
Genre political / courtroom drama
Directed by Aaron Sorkin
Starring Eddie Redmayne (Tom Hayden), Alex Sharp (Rainier Davis), Sacha Baron Cohen (Abbie Hoffman), Jeremy Strong (Jerry Rubin), John Carroll Lynch (David Dillinger), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Bobby Seal), Mark Rylance (William Kunstler), Ben Shankman (Leonard Weinglass), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Richard Schultz), Frank Langella (Judge Julius Hoffman), Michael Keaton (Ramsay Clark), and others.
Paramount Pictures, Netflix
Year of release 2020
Great directing; great dialog; terrific cast; 1960s atmosphere; still relevant subject matter
Aaron Sorkin never gave up on the idea of putting a movie based on an already completed script in the works. He kept in touch with Steven Spielberg, approached Ben Stiller (Zoolander, Tropic Thunder) and Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, United 93, Captain Phillips), but the movie hung firmly in limbo. It wasn’t until 2018, after the success of Molly’s Game, which garnered excellent reviews from critics and a good crop of awards, that Sorkin decided to resurrect the movie and took on directing himself. As it turned out, not for nothing.
However, the problems of the movie about the trial of civil activists did not end there. Shooting of the picture with a budget of $ 35 million ($ 11 million went to royalties to the stars involved) ended in the fall of 2019, the premiere was scheduled for September 2020 … and then the pandemic began. Against the backdrop of theater closures, Paramount Pictures, which financed the film, was helped by Netflix, which was interested in buying the picture, which could potentially bring the service several Oscars at once. As a result, in the summer of 2020, Netflix and Paramount Pictures agreed on a figure of $56 million, and finally the picture appeared on the streaming service. As it should be, closer to the nomination season.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 tells the story of the anti-war protests during the U.S. Democratic Party convention in Chicago in August 1968, brutally suppressed by police and army, and the trial of the left-wing activists involved in those events. Although technically there were eight men in the dock for most of the time, the trial went down in history as the trial of the “Chicago Seven” as the trial of the eighth defendant, Black Panther leader Bobby Seale, was eventually made into a separate case.
The trial lasted 11 months from March 1969 to February 1970 and involved numerous irregularities. You may be surprised, but in the late 60’s justice in the United States was sometimes not different from justice in modern Ukraine. One of the defendants was even physically restrained, and during the trial the defendants and their lawyers received a total of 150 warnings for contempt of court. Naturally, such a high-profile trial attracted the attention of the press and the public. Many considered the trial to be politically biased, a kind of revenge of the Republicans who came to power against the Democrats who had occupied the offices for the previous 8 years.
In addition, the Chicago Seven case had a significant impact on American and British music, for example, Graham Nash’s song Chicago / We Can Change the World is dedicated to these events, as well as 25 other songs by famous rock and folk singers. Naturally, many books and dozens of movies have been written about the protests and the process. At least five have been released since 2000 alone.
Right-wing critics have accused Sorkin’s movie of opportunism, since it comes amid new protests in the United States. But The Trial of the Chicago 7 is not directly related to the BLM movement, the work on the film began much earlier, just the theme of police brutality and pressure from the authorities remains as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. And it’s not just about the USA and BLM. Ukrainians will find in the events shown in the movie many analogies with the events of winter 2013-2014 in Ukraine. Belarusians will notice similarities in the actions of the police in the United States in the late 1960s and in Belarus in 2020.
Police brutality and judicial lawlessness are the same at all times. The way police disperse a demonstration in a park in Chicago in the film is no different from the beating of students on Maidan Nezalezhnosti on November 30, 2013. The same techniques, the same brutality, the same disregard for other people’s lives. In the movie, episodes with actors are mixed with the real chronicle of those events. The trial of the Chicago Seven is no different from the trials of Maidan activists under Yanukovych or what is going on in Ukrainian courts today. Incompetence, flouting the law, political bias. So The Trial of the Chicago 7 is not at all about America in the 60s, it’s about the confrontation between government and civil society in general.
Aaron Sorkin is definitely a good screenwriter, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 has some great dialog. And if you think that sometimes they are a bit pompous and unrealistic, you can refer to the transcript of the trial, Sorkin follows the text exactly, he just masterfully chooses fragments and episodes. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a movie primarily about a trial, and back in the days of A Few Good Men, Sorkin proved he could write movies like this. There are a lot of interesting little details in the “work” of the judge, the lawyers, the reactions of U.S. Attorneys, both active at the time of the events of the movie and former ones. One of the strongest scenes of the movie is the speech in court by former US Attorney General Ramsay Clark, brilliantly played by Michael Keaton. Keaton’s role in the movie is no more than ten lines, but he is really great here.
In general, the acting ensemble of the film is the best find of Sorkin and casting specialists, the number of stars literally ripples in the eyes. And I don’t even know who to single out first of all. Eddie Redmayne (Tom Hayden), great in any role? The unusually serious Sacha Baron Cohen (the role of Abbie Hoffman is still his)? The unlikeable Jeremy Strong (Jerry Rubin)? John Carroll Lynch (David Dillinger)? Yahya Abdul-Mateen (Bobby Seal)? The fantastic Mark Rylance (William Kunstler), who has a chance to add another Oscar to his Oscar? Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Richard Schultz)? Gorgeous theater actor Frank Langella (Judge Julius Hoffman)? Or still the same Michael Keaton (Ramsay Clark)? Each is good individually, but all together they take it to some incredible level of interaction. A great ensemble cast, hopefully the Academy critics will recognize that too.
Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 is very rich, multifaceted, deep. Here and the confrontation between America of the 50s and America of the 60s, and the eternal animosity between Democrats and Republicans, and the anti-war message that reaches an incredible crescendo in the scene of Tom Hayden’s last speech. Again, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is not just a topical movie, it’s also a very good movie. Well written, well directed, and well acted. One of the best movies of 2020.
P.S. Aaron Sorkin’s new project could be a sequel to The Social Network. In the 10 years since the original movie, social networks have changed from a tool that connects people to a tool that divides and controls people. Sorkin wants to explore this phenomenon. However, this picture will only happen if David Fincher agrees to return to the director’s chair.
Still a topical picture about the events of the late 60s in the US with great actors and thoughtful direction