- Katie Bell
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)
My only regret, in regards to this film, is that I didn't watch it sooner. This is a well cast, well filmed, well written movie, that is quite an emotional, but worthwhile watch.
You don't need to be a genius, (or a film reviewer) to know that The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) focuses on the trial of seven men, following the Chicago protests of August 1968. Throughout the film, the phrase "political trial" is thrown around and debated a lot, and there is no doubt that this trial (in the way that it appears in this film) is political. The accused are described as "rebels without a job, who never bothered to get their hands dirty," and the odds are clearly stacked against them... the odds are more than stacked against them. Thematically, in the same ilk as classics such as 12 Angry Men, this film looks at the inherent flaws in the American justice system, and more specifically, the fact that at the end of the day, it's people, with their own inherent flaws and prejudices, who decide the fate of other people (and sometimes, the government intervenes as well). It's heartbreaking and interesting and frustrating and infuriating and all the other feels that you can expect.
The movie begins with a fast-paced montage of contextual footage from the riots themselves, interspersed between short introductions to each of the film's central characters. It's a seven and a half minute whir of information, before the film slows right down, and the trial itself begins. From that point forward, the story is told in a non-linear style. The trial itself is delivered chronologically, whilst the events of the riots are pieced together in fragments as they are revealed. Pace is varied incredibly well throughout, to fluctuate the tension and also to keep the audience engaged. And when it's used in combination with music, it's nothing short of movie magic.
The film also presents the story of the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago from at least two angles. There's the prosecution angle, or rather, the angle of the U.S. government, and this is effectively juxtaposed with a commentary from Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) delivering his perspective on the events through stand up comedy. This use of juxtaposition paints a very clear picture of the film's central themes and the injustices that the Chicago 7 faced. Also...it's Sacha Baron Cohen. The man's a talent. And he's fabulous in this role.
Finally, this film quite possibly has the best product placement I've seen from a Netflix film...and by the best, I mean the most subtle. In one of the first scenes that follows the opening montage, the prosecutors are offered a Johnny Walker. One accepts, one declines. A taste. A close up. Mmmm, Johnny Walker, don't mind if I do (drink responsibly). It's certainly not the twinkies from Zombieland, but it sure is an improvement on some of the other product placement I've seen this year.
This is another film released in 2020, that proves that Brecht's convention of historification is just as effective now, as it was a century ago. The Trial of the Chicago 7 may be about the events of a trial, that took place after a protest in the late 1960s, but strong parallels can easily be drawn between the issues that this film raises, and some of the issues that we've faced this year. It's a moving look at political history, and depressingly, it's a reminder that although the Vietnam War is long over, there are plenty of social issues from the era that remain.
Watch this film. You'll find it on Netflix.