The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)
Feels like a TV movie
If there’s one word I would use to describe The Trial of the Chicago 7, it would be ‘heavy-handed’. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is good. It has effective performances and a strong relevance to current events. However, most of the movie feels exaggerated in its execution. There are a lot of good guys and bad guys. Ironically, the movie would have been much better without the heavy-handedness.
The movie is set in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Violence erupts between protestors and police at the event. Eight men are then arrested and charged with trying to incite riots. One of the eight, Bobby Seale, ultimately gets his case severed from the others in dramatic fashion. The remaining men on trial are the titular figures in The Trial of the Chicago 7.
I was a big fan of The West Wing. Aaron Sorkin’s idealized liberal administration contrasted the reality of George W. Bush’s White House at the time. Bush’s inexperience, 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq made the show appealing. But even back then, I was fully aware that The West Wing was blatantly one-sided. It was as much a political statement as a TV show. Sorkin’s White House was full of honorable good guys. Meanwhile, its political opposition was made up of unscrupulous bad guys. It was this familiarity with The West Wing that made me nervous about The Trial of the Chicago 7.
Sorkin’s heavy-handed and partisan approach to his projects made me fear the worst. The movie is about anti-Veitnam War protestors on trial for inciting riots. This is a perfect topic for Sorkin to lean into his biases. But while The West Wing was a fictional world , the Trial of the Chicago 7 is based on real events. It’s a project that requires nuance. Unfortunately, Sorkin’s partisan politics shows up in the movie anyway. Ultimately, his signature style makes the movie feel like a very special episode of The West Wing.
What I liked
Eddie Redmayne, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Sacha Baron Cohen give really strong performances. Their characters all share the same, strong conviction. Characters like these lend themselves to really big performances, and the actors deliver as much. The pacing of the movie also helped elevate key moments for characters. As with Judas and the Black Messiah, The Trial of the Chicago 7 manages to stay entertaining despite its historical source material.
What I didn’t like
Sorkin’s heavy-handedness makes The Trial of the Chicago 7 feel like propaganda at times. Characters are either noble and righteous or vindictive and evil. There’s no in between. The script also has Sorkin’s signature fast-paced dialogue. While it helps give gravitas to key moments, scenes often feel in-your-face. The actors end up looking like they’re giving cringe worthy acceptance speeches. As a result, the audience is left with an awkward dilemma – clap for them or be like one of the bad guys in the movie. It all makes for an unnecessarily uncomfortable viewing experience.
Overall, I enjoyed The Trial of the Chicago 7. It’s a decent movie that reflects our current political climate. Unfortunately, I think the filmmakers missed an opportunity here. It could have been metacommentary about the dangers of political partisanship. Instead, it picked sides. The Trial of the Chicago 7 would have worked a lot better from a neutral position – considering the politically charged moment we’re living in.
Source: Paramount Pictures, Netflix (2020)