If there was one good thing to come out of lockdown 2.0, it would be that I finally got to make some headway through my ever-growing list of Netflix films that I have been wanting to watch. High up on the list was the Trial of the Chicago 7 – and it did not disappoint.
The film is based on the 1969 trial of seven individuals who are charged by the federal government with the likes of conspiracy and conspiracy to riot, arising from the counter-cultural protests that took place in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. All this controversy was set up behind a backdrop of an ongoing discontent from the American people towards the American government.
The film was both comical and emotive and yet highlighted the inherent problems with US society during the 1960s. Some of the scenes were quite hard to watch and really struck a chord of emotion, particularly regarding the treatment of Bobby Seale, a black man who was a member of the Black Panther group, also on trial but who was not at the riots. Bobby does not have a lawyer and requests many times to represent himself – these are all denied by the judge who is constantly issuing him with contempt in court charges. The most harrowing scene is that of Bobby being sent away to be kept quiet and returning to the court room with his hands tied and his mouth in a gag. Frank Langella portrays Judge Hoffman excellently, illustrating the bluntly racist views of many white Americans at the time when they do not recognise their views to be racist, demonstrated by the shocking line following his orders to keep Bobby Seale quiet that, the defence lawyer is ‘the first person to suggest he has ever discriminated against a black man in the courtroom.’
The cast also brought the film to life and highlighted the diverse range of characters and personalities who were opposed to the Vietnam War and rioted. Sacha Baron Cohen portrays Abbie Hoffman, a hippie group leader who also does stand up. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Richard Schultz, the prosecution lawyer for the government, although throughout the film we see his sympathies for those who he is prosecuting seep through. Finally, Eddie Redmayne plays Tom Hayden. Often seen throughout the film as the one who deviates from the cause and attempts to keep the Judge and jury on side, even if it means going against the principles that he believes in. Redmayne portrays the character so well, often seeming quiet in court but outspoken in the flash back scenes throughout the film. What is more, his end speech to the court upon the sentencing of the Chicago 7 was a real emotive tearjerker.
The two-hour long film is overwhelming at times however, it needs to be. The film highlights wider societal problems that can still be drawn on today as well as reflecting on the past injustices in society. If you’re looking for a captivating film to watch – I highly recommend this one!
You can stream the trial of the Chicago 7 on Netflix.