MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
The Trial of the Chicago 7 - On Netflix Streaming
Directed by Aaron Sorkin
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp
The past few years have been filled with protests across the country, primarily in response to incidents of police brutality to persons of color (and subsequent deaths). Peaceful demonstrations have been accompanied by outside groups and individuals who have seized the opportunity to provoke violence and acts of vandalism. Our current political climate has divided our country in ways that haven’t been seen since fifty years ago when the United States was engaged in an unpopular war in Vietnam.
Although social media did not exist 52 years ago, live network coverage of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago did. Anticipating the possibilities for high profile protests, several groups showed up specifically to make anti-war statements that would be seen by a large TV audience. These groups included the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a group with socialist values led by Tom Hayden (Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Sharp); the Youth International Party (“Yippees”), an anti-war coalition that focused on street theater and pranks, with Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) leading the pack; the Black Panthers’ Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II); and David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), John Froines (Danny Flaherty), and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), three independent protesters.
There were violent outbursts and vandalism during the convention (not necessarily all done by these eight) which resulted in a Grand Jury trial immediately thereafter. The six-month trial ended up with no indictments. But after Richard Nixon became president in 1969, indictments were served and the eight were brought to court that September for a second trial, with Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) presiding and William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) as the defense lawyer. This film is writer-director Aaron Sorkin’s version of that trial, interwoven with reenactments of the 1968 protests in Grant Park.
Yes, I know that I have taken over half of this review to set the table for you, but I do so in order to implore you to see this movie. This is a part of history that was very real to me but rarely discussed or talked about in history classes, although just six months or so after this court case, the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970 would ignite the world in a more memorable way.
It could be argued that these folks were provocateurs that brought on their own troubles, but the point of this well-made film is that they nevertheless deserved justice. (And Bobby Seale – who was in town for only four hours! – was wrongly accused.) And there was a time when these higher values were not only honored but valiantly fought for.
If you are at all familiar with Aaron Sorkin’s work as the creator of A Few Good Men, The American President, and The West Wing, his passion for justice as well as his ear for smart dialogue are both well-used in this actors’ showcase of a movie. The only misstep is the film’s hokey conclusion (which is another one of Sorkin’s trademarks, alas).
If our faith is to continue to be relevant for years to come, we need to seriously reengage our efforts to pray and work for justice for all, and grasp every possibility to speak the truth in love as well as truth to power. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a fine refresher course in how to make this happen.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: A film about protest and the ways in which freedom of speech is sometimes considered dangerous.
Two pitchforks: Plenty of foul-mouth “hippie” talk; scenes of extreme violence; racism.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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