The Trial of the Chicago 7 Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

America, 1968, President Johnson, the Vietnam War, which causes great protest among many Americans because thousands and thousands of young guys are dying in this senseless war. In August of this year, the Congress of the US Democratic Party was held in Chicago, at which the question of which candidate this party would nominate was decided. It was known that the Democrats would nominate Hubert Humphrey, a candidate who favored the continuation of the Vietnam War.

Thousands of young people who support several different parties went to Chicago to hold a rally. The main organizer of the protests was the Yippie (International Youth Party), a left-wing countercultural movement founded by Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) and Abby Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen). The Yippies were going to nominate their own candidate for the new President of the United States, which was the Pigasus pig (the reason for this was that since the Democrats and Republicans are nominating their own pigs, why not the Yippies nominate their own).

Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), leaders of the Students for a Democratic Society movement, the so-called New Left, also brought their supporters to Chicago: they opposed the Vietnam War, while Hayden was the author of the policy paper organization of the Port Huron Declaration.

An active participant in the protests was activist and pacifist David T. Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), representing the organization “National Mobilization Committee to End the Vietnam War”: David is much older than the other four leaders.

Well, the leader of the Black Panther organization, Bobby Seal (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), arrived in Chicago for just a few hours to address a rally of his supporters, which had nothing to do with the anti-war protests that day in Lincoln Park.

Chicago Mayor Richard Jay Daley gave strict orders not to allow any rallies during the Democratic Convention, a bunch of police and National Guard troops were driven into the city, and as a result, during the rally, which could not be held, riots and clashes broke out with police.

US Attorney General John Mitchell after all these events decided to make a show trial. Four leaders of Yippies and Students for a Democratic Society were arrested, activist David Tee Dellinger, two scientists John Freynes and Lee Weiner, who kind of taught the protesters how to make explosives, and even Bobby Seal, who had nothing to do with all this at all. .

Promising young prosecutor Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was given explicit instructions by Mitchell to accuse all these largely unrelated people of creating a criminal group that allegedly organized a rebellion against the government, and since they, in general, really had nothing to show , Mitchell ordered the use of the “Crossing State Lines to Organize Bla-Bla-Bla Something” Act, which Southern congressmen pushed through Congress to accuse black activists, and this law has never before been in court before was used.

Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) was properly “set up” before the trial, after which the very famous “Trial of the Chicago Seven” began (Bobby Seal was nevertheless separated from the rest of the defendants during the trial, so that the eight turned into a seven), which became one of the most shameful pages in the history of the United States.


Screenwriter Eron Sorkin is a kind of “Hollywood’s golden child”: he wrote scripts for such films as “A Few Good Men”, “The Social Network”, “The Man Who Changed Everything”, as well as for the series “The West Wing”, “The News Service ”, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and others. Sorkin won an Oscar for writing The Social Network.

In 2017, Sorkin, according to his script as a director, directed a rather weak film “The Great Game”, which showed that he did not need to make films according to his own scripts – it was not for nothing that a joke went around the Web, which said that “Eron Sorkin is too good a screenwriter, to work with a mediocre director like Aaron Sorkin.” However, I note that Bublik and I didn’t like The Big Game at all, and the picture had a very high rating on IMDB (Sorkin knows that it works well with the public and film academics), so a few years later Eron again sat in the director’s chair.

And there was a certain backstory. The trial of the Chicago Seven was of great interest to Steven Spielberg – the director in 2006 was thinking about filming this story and invited Sorkin to write the script. In 2007, the script was ready, Spielberg was completely satisfied with it, and then the casting even began: Sasha Baron Cohen was supposed to play Abbie Hoffman, Heath Ledger was supposed to play Tom Hayden, and Will Smith was considered for the role of Bobby Seal by Spielberg.

But then the writers went on strike and the project slowly stalled. A year later, Ben Stiller showed interest in it, another five years later – Paul Greengrass, but nothing was realized until after the “Great Game” Aaron Sorkin decided to personally direct this film according to his own script. And what did he get?

Look, I sat down to watch this with a clear prejudice against Sorkin as a director. Of course, he is a significant screenwriter, but, in my opinion, he needs a strong director who will take all the best from Eron’s script and will not exchange for all the cheap stuff that Sorkin, which he showed as a director in The Great Game, clearly gravitates towards .

However, with this film, I am ready to completely drop all these charges, Your Honor! Because it is really very professional, high-quality and mature filmed! It’s almost as if Spielberg was shooting from a script by Sorkin, really! And if they let me see this film at a “blind tasting” and they would say that this is “Spielberg from the script of Sorkin”, – that’s my word of honor, I would believe it!

But here you need to understand that with this film, Eron is in his most familiar environment, in which he is certainly one of the best. His scripts very often (and almost always) contain litigation. He writes great dialogue. He perfectly knows how to show the characters in their monologues and dialogues, he knows how to place accents very precisely. He also knows very well how to manipulate the opinion of the audience about certain participants in the film, but this is by no means a complaint, because this is usually the skill of the screenwriter / director.

Well, let’s note that, in addition, the basis in the form of a completely iconic story about the trial of the Chicago Seven – it was already quite cinematic! Yes, yes, it is cinematic, because there was no court, but downright a real “circus with horses”: and many Americans knew that this was a purely political process, and the defendants (not all, but some of them) knew that that this is a political trial and that there will be not a trial, but a political performance, and the so-called “trial” itself looked more like a specific show, and of a very bad quality – of course, on the part of the judge and the prosecution.

What did Aaron Sorkin do with it? In my opinion, this is downright masterful work, in which the excellent script by Sorkin the screenwriter is beautifully executed by Sorkin the director. I really didn’t expect this!

I read a lot about this process, I know very well what exactly Sorkin threw out in general (with Ramsey Clark the story was more interesting, and he did not use the performances of the then stars in court as a screenwriter), but this was quite understandable, it was also quite understandable that that certain significant moments in court, such as reading the names of the Americans who died in the Vietnam War, Eron greatly shifted in time.

Also, this drawing of the accused in light colors, and the prosecution – exclusively in black, cannot be presented here either, because it clearly shows how different people the members of the Chicago Seven were and what contradictions were between them, and when Judge Julius Hoffman he shows a man who does not is incompatible with the concept of an honest and impartial servant of the law – well, that’s exactly what he was, which is easy to understand if you study the materials of that shameful trial: from the very beginning he was biased towards the accused, he constantly shut the lawyer’s mouth, he tried to influence on jurors, he rejected defense witnesses, he granted any protests of the prosecution and rejected any protests of the defense – damn, something is somehow all very, very familiar to me!

It’s all played – that’s just fine! All the main characters are very bright and interesting! The coolest are Abby Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, played by Sasha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong. Both played excellently, but here it is also necessary to note the skill of the screenwriter – he prescribed excellent dialogues for them. Sasha Baron Cohen is practically the number one star here – his character is the most interesting, ambiguous and multifaceted. In general, I love his roles very much, when Cohen does not act in his own films, not according to his own script – he is really a very strong actor. Moreover, if in 2007, thirteen years ago, he still somehow matched the age of his character, then here he is already under fifty years old, but Cohen’s charisma, his energy and enthusiasm – they redeem everything, and you don’t even think that he plays the thirty-four-year-old Hoffman.

Actor Jeremy Strong is also very good here! Somehow he didn’t impress me at all in the good series “Heirs”, but here he liked it. In the pair Abby – Jerry Rubin clearly plays second fiddle, but he is also a person with convictions, he can not be intimidated, and he can lead people. At the same time, he suddenly turns out to be quite emotionally vulnerable: the scene of his conversation with the accuser about the FBI agent who broke Jerry’s heart is very touching.

The definite opposite of Hoffman and Rubin is Tom Hayden, played by Eddie Redmayne. Hoffman and Rubin are hippies and rebels. Hayden is a promising young politician who clearly has a good career ahead of him. (So ​​it later, I note, and it turned out.) Hayden is charismatic, has his own convictions, he does not like the Yippie movement for drugs and buffoonery, he constantly bickers with Hoffman, and these bickerings are very interesting. Redmayne, in my opinion, did a great job playing Hayden, especially since his role was much more difficult than Cohen’s. He played a very bright character, sharp-tongued, not constrained by any special conventions. And Hayden is a guy from a good family who plans to make a certain career, he has to be very careful in what he does. And Redmayne showed well

A significant character here is lawyer William Kunstler, who defends the accused, played by Mark Rylance (he played in Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies”, which for some reason I have not watched them yet, but I should have). An excellent role, and the lawyer does not behave in any way like an obvious poseur working for the public, and it is perfectly shown here that Kunstler really tried to protect the accused in a practically hopeless trial, that he somehow tried to smooth out their internal contradictions and tried his best to resist to the lawlessness that Judge Hoffman arranged. And I liked this role the most – primarily because Rylance perfectly managed to show the inner strength of this man, who knew well that he did not work at all for money, he was forced to confront a completely disgusting lawless judge,

Let’s also pay tribute to Frank Langella, who played Judge Hoffman in such a way that this character cannot but cause disgust. (By the way, Langella played President Nixon himself in Frost vs. Nixon, and he was nominated for an Oscar for this role.) And Langella found a lot of interesting features for the judge that create a very capacious image: how the judge endlessly confuses the names of the accused , with what obvious hostility he treats the side of the defense, with what slavish readiness he satisfies all the protests of the prosecution – no, this, of course, is not a trial, this is precisely a political process, which Abby declared from the very beginning.

And it’s very funny to see how pompously Judge Hoffman constantly demands “respect for the court” when what is happening in this room is not just by definition a court, it’s a cynical and mean performance staged by order of the then Attorney General United States of John Mitchell: he did not care at all whether these people were guilty or not, he demanded the punishment of “these scholars” so that it looked like a lesson to the rest of the youth. In fact, this shameful act, which, by the way, lasted more than five months, only noticeably radicalized the moods of young Americans, but people like Mitchell are not very good at calculating moves at least two steps ahead, this is not typical of them.

The good actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt here got, frankly, not a very advantageous role of the accuser in the trial of Richard Schulz. Why not too winning? Because even in comparison with the brightly negative role of Judge Hoffman, Schultz is such a human function. He was given a task by the Prosecutor General himself, and he is fulfilling this task. At the same time, he understands his unenviable role, but his career depends on this process, and he does what he must. The screenwriter even flattered the real Schultz, adding some human notes to him in some episodes, which Joseph played excellently, but according to archival materials, it somehow doesn’t look like the real Schultz experienced something like that: he stubbornly and systematically bent his line and obviously had no sympathy for the accused.

Well, another excellent, albeit small role is the former Attorney General of the United States, brilliantly played by Michael Keaton. With his line, by the way, the screenwriter changed everything a little, but we will talk about this at the end of the review under the spoiler, so as not to spoil the impression for those who have not watched this film yet.

What is the result? Well, you probably already realized that I really liked the way this film was made. As a screenwriter, Sorkin is unparalleled in writing effective and tense dialogue, and few people can make a court session so captivating. Yes, here the historical material itself was bright and interesting, but he disposed of it simply brilliantly! In addition, it is also really well staged: powerful, mature and professional.

And it should be noted how relevant everything that is shown in this film looks now, both for America and for Russia. Refusal of permission to hold a rally, refusal to provide security, involvement of huge police forces to disperse the rally (there were 12,000 police officers and soldiers of the national guard for ten thousand participants in the rally), police violence, removal of police badges with their names, accusing protesters of all mortal sins , an absolutely clownish trial with charges under an absurd law that was never applied, a judge refusing to call defense witnesses and constantly gagging lawyers – does it remind you of anything?

It’s a great movie, and I think it’s not just worth watching, but it’s a must-see, because it’s a very bright event in the cinematic world. Surely the picture itself, its director (he is also a screenwriter) and the actors will receive a whole bunch of prestigious cinematic awards, and in this case they certainly deserve it.

Well, according to tradition – a few real photos from those times.

Chicago Eight.

The Chicago Seven with their lawyers.

Jerry Rubin, Abby Hoffman and Renny Davis at a press conference during the trial.

Leonard Wineglass and William Kunstler at trial.

Bobby Seal.

PS And now, under the spoiler, let’s talk a little about what exactly the screenwriter changed in the film compared to the real story.

At the end of the picture, it is reported that all five defendants (two scientists were released before the end of the process) were found guilty of organizing a riot and sentenced to a five-year prison term.

In fact, on the main charge – conspiracy to organize a riot – they were found not guilty, they were found guilty of inciting a riot.

From what I’ve read, Judge Hoffman personally issued various jail terms and large $5,000 fines to each of them, based on about 175 “contempt of court” findings he found.

In the spring of 1972, the Court of Appeal overturned the sentences for “contempt of court”, since the judge did not have the right to issue a conclusion on this article for more than six months without a special judicial procedure (trial by jury, etc.), and a little later the sentence on main accusation.

An important witness at the trial was the same former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Eron Sorkin testified in the film that the judge allowed the lawyer to interrogate Clark only without the presence of the jury, and the jury was not informed at all of the fact that Clark testified and what exactly he showed.

However, as far as I read, in reality, Clark’s interrogation was carried out in front of the jury, and it was his testimony that influenced the jury’s verdict: Ramsey said that he, in his position as Attorney General, refused to initiate criminal proceedings against the protesters in a similar case, since the investigation found that in the riots as such, the police were guilty, and the protesters were simply defending themselves.

The spectacular final scene with the reading of the names of the dead American soldiers in the courtroom was actually somewhere in the middle of the process (so all of Judge Tom’s hints about the short last word, apparently, the scriptwriter’s invention), the list was read by David T. Dellinger, and he could only read out a few names, after which the judge stopped this process.

The line with FBI agent Daphne Fitzgerald, with whom Jerry Rubin allegedly had an affair, is completely fictional. However, several agents were indeed introduced into the protest groups, and one of them, Robert Pearson, even managed to become Jerry’s personal bodyguard and had access to most important meetings: in fact, his testimony largely influenced the final verdict of the jury.

The scene of how the convinced pacifist Dellinger smacked the bailiff in the face is also Sorkin’s invention, in reality this did not happen.

The chaining and gagging of Bobby Seal not only took place in reality, but he spent three days at the meetings in this form, which once again added an element of sheer madness to everything that Judge Hoffman was doing. And he was released from charges not at all at the request of the prosecutor Schultz, and Sila Hoffman immediately threw everything into prison on the same charge of “contempt of court”.

Trial of the Chicago Seven /
The Trial of the Chicago 7 movie review

Producer: Iran Sorkin


Mark Rylance, Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Frank Langella, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeremy Strong, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Alex Sharp, John Carroll Lynch, Michael Keaton

Court drama, USA-UK-India, 2020, 129 min.

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