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Movie Review: “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Netflix Release: 10/16/2020

Netflix Release: 10/16/2020

Synopsis

The Vietnam War is at its peak, and the United States has begun drafting more of its citizens to join the war. However, there are many in the United States who do not agree with the war, and are disgusted with their government for sending so many young men to their deaths. Tensions are high in the United States, and tensions are becoming even higher, as the presidential election is quickly approaching. With the Democratic National Convention taking place in Chicago, a few activist groups have decided to go to Chicago to protest the war in front of the convention.

Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) represent the Students for Democratic Society. Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) represent the Yippies. They are joined by David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), John Froines (Danny Flaherty), and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), to form a group that will become known as the Chicago 7. Their protests started out peacefully, but the protests ended up turning into massive riots in Chicago after a heated confrontation with the police. With a new president in the oval office, and a new administration in the White House with him, the new Attorney General John Mitchell (John Doman) has decided to make an example out of these seven activists. The Chicago 7 could be facing up to 10 years in prison for conspiracy to incite violence, and although their lawyers William Kunsler (Mark Rylance) and Leonard Weinglass (Ben Shenkman) put up a strong fight, it quickly becomes clear that they are playing a fixed game.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

The Cast (+8pts)

The Judge (-2pts)

The Trial (+8pts)

The Witnesses (-2pts)

The Chicago 7 (+6pts)

The Closure (-2pts)

movie-review-the-trial-of-the-chicago-7

Pro: The Cast (+8pts)

This movie had a great cast playing some interesting characters. There was Mark Rylance as the increasingly frustrated defense lawyer. There was Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, and John Carroll Lynch as a few members of the Chicago 7. There was also Joseph Gordon Levitt as a prosecutor, conflicted about some of the strategies that the prosecutors were using to win. Then there was Michael Keaton as the former Attorney General.

Honestly, the whole cast of this movie was great, but I am not going to sit here and name every single member of the cast. The actors mentioned above were the standouts, and all gave great performances, but the entire cast of this movie was great. It was a story about the morality of political trials. It was a story about characters willing to face jail time over their ideals. It was a story about police brutality, government corruption, and a dozen men standing up to that corruption despite the risks to their lives and careers. There was a ton of drama, tension, and emotional weight in this movie. The actors in each of these roles really sunk their teeth into the material whenever they were on screen, and it made this a truly captivating movie.

movie-review-the-trial-of-the-chicago-7

Con: The Judge (-2pts)

While this movie was all about a corrupt trial, I thought the Judge's clear bias was a little too obvious and even unbelievable. On one hand, his obvious bias was frustrating in a good way, because he was the authority in the courtroom, so even if he was extremely bias or corrupt, he had absolute power in the room, which made him a daunting antagonist. Maybe this was exactly what the real life trial was like, but it made it feel like the protagonists had no hope. This made for compelling character stories, as it was interesting to see how each character responded to this. Unfortunately, I do not think I was as invested in the trial as I would have been if the Judge's bias was not as obvious as it was, and was instead more subtle.

movie-review-the-trial-of-the-chicago-7

Pro: The Trial (+8pts)

The judge's bias made me somewhat less invested in the trial than I would have been if I thought the protagonists had even a slim chance of winning, but the trial was still pretty engaging nonetheless. It was engaging because of how many wrenches the "system" was throwing into the protagonists' plan. The game was rigged against them, which was infuriating, but it made them underdogs that you will want to root for. It was also engaging because of how relevant the entire premise of this movie was, when compared to the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. This was then taken a step further, as seven leaders of the protests in Chicago in 1968, actually faced trial and potentially 10 years of jail time. The trial was the result of a relevant subject, and the corruption really stacked the deck against the protagonists. These two things came together to make for a naturally engaging story that never felt dull, despite it being a two hour drama about a trial.

movie-review-the-trial-of-the-chicago-7

Con: The Witnesses (-2pts)

The filmmakers made it a point to reveal that most of the witnesses were biased, but I thought this would have been a lot more impactful if we had seen these characters before knowing that. Instead, we met these characters as they were revealed to be against the protagonists, then we saw flashbacks showing them interacting with the protagonists beforehand. This really had no impact, as we knew they were antagonists before the flashbacks even began, so there was no reason to be invested in what was happening, nor was there any reason to be invested in the reveals. If the filmmakers had gone the other way, and shown what took place in the flashbacks sooner, and only later revealed that the witnesses were against the protagonists, then these reveals would have had a lot more impact. However, that is not what the filmmakers did, so we got a bunch of meaningless reveals that were significant to the protagonists, but will mean very little to the viewer.

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Pro: The Chicago 7 (+6pts)

One thing I really liked about this movie was that each member of the Chicago 7 felt like their own distinct character. A couple of them shared ideals with others, but they each felt like their very own character. Abbie Hoffman and Tom Hayden were the two with the most opposing views, as the former had a more comedic approach to situations, while the latter had a more respectful one. That being said, I liked that Abbie Hoffman had more complexity than just being the comedic relief of the movie. He approached things from a comedic perspective, but he cared very much about the cause he was fighting for, and he came across as intelligent, using comedy as a tool rather than a crutch.

Tom Hayden was what you would expect from a primary protagonist, and he worked as such. Then there was David Dellinger who absolutely opposed violence. Rennie Davis and Jerry Rubin were basically the sidekicks of Tom Hayden and Abbie Hoffman respectfully, but they both had their own voices as well. These characters came together to form the group known as the Chicago 7, but I thought the filmmakers did a great job at showing their distinct personalities, ideals, and how they each approached the situations they found themselves in. It was an interesting movie, and the characters in it were a big reason why.

movie-review-the-trial-of-the-chicago-7

Con: The Closure (-2pts)

This was one of those true story movies that ended, only for the filmmakers to throw a bunch of text on screen, explaining what happened after the events of the movie. We have all seen many movies that have done this, and it can be an effective method of telling the audience some of the real life story that did not really fit within the context of the movie. It was honestly fine in this movie, but I thought the movie would have been more satisfying if the end of this movie was just the climax, and some of what was explained via screen text was actually shown as closure. It was not a huge deal, but I thought trimming down some of what took place before the climax in order to actually show some of what took place after it would have made for a stronger conclusion.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

movie-review-the-trial-of-the-chicago-7

Grade: A- (91pts)

I did not exactly jump on this movie when it came out, because I have seen my share of boring trial movies. Fortunately, this movie was not one of those. The trial was about a topic that was incredibly relevant in 2020, as it was about a group of peaceful protests in 1968, which turned into riots after the police got involved. This naturally made the movie engaging, due to its relevance, but there was more to it than just that. The protagonists faced corruption. The new Attorney General wanted to make an example out of seven of the key figures of the protests. As a result of that, the Chicago 7 were pretty much doomed from the beginning.

The prosecutors stacked the deck against the Chicago 7, and the judge made sure that any possible defense was snuffed out. The bias and the corruption were infuriating in a good way, as it had me passionately rooting for the protagonists. Unfortunately, the judge's clear bias felt unrealistic at times, and it made it clear that the protagonists had no hope, which got me somewhat less invested in the story. I also thought the filmmakers could have handled the witnesses better, and I thought they should have shown some of the story's conclusion, rather than just slap some text on the screen at the end. Nonetheless, this was a naturally engaging story about a group of well written characters, who were each played by talented actors. I had some minor issues with it, but it was a pretty entertaining and engaging trial movie.

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