Rating **** 1/2
The Trial of the Chicago 7 by Aaron Sorkin tells the story of how Mayor Richard Daily used overwhelming police force to prevent peaceful protesters from protesting at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Rather than contain the protestors, the efforts to prevent the protestors from protesting at the convention resulted in street violence with many of the protestors being injured by police. Sound familiar? The organizers of the protests were targeted and rounded up and put on trial for inciting the riots.
As the title suggests, a lot of the story centers around the trial of the eight people indicted. One person, the head of the black panthers, was removed from the proceedings after the judge was forced to declare a mistrial because of his treatment of the defendant, which included bounding and gagging the defendant. The trial scenes were memorable thanks in large part to the bizarre rulings by the judge, played by Frank Langella. The riots for which the men had been put on trial are shown in flashbacks using both archival footage and dramatizations.
One of the better scenes in the film revolves around the idea of just who started the riots. Was it the protestors, who were there to protest the Vietnam War? Or was it Tom Hayden played by Eddie Redmayne. The scene starts out with a recording made the night of the riots where Hayden appears to incite the protestors. The answer is not black and white. As the scene unfolds it appears that Hayden did incite the crowds. Later, though, it becomes apparent that it was just a misunderstanding.
As good as the film is, I think it may have been even better if done as a two or three-part series. It seemed to me that a good deal of the story was condensed in an effort to save time. For example, five of the defendants are found guilty, but we never get to see the verdict being handed down. They just show up unexpectedly wearing jumpsuits. Another thing missing was images of the real people. And while updates were given for a number of the characters, there was no update on Attorney General John Mitchel, who was a lot like our current Attorney General Bill Barr.