The Trial of the Chicago 7 is further proof that we should bury Sorkin next to Chayefsky until we get The Social Network II. Younger people will cringe at elements of this film, while boomers will struggle to remember their experience in the Summer of 1968. I’ll highlight it for our Gabapentin users in the audience. You were at home or working a dead-end job while future college professors annoyed the Chicago Police Department.
What resulted was a trial were some of the most disgusting and useless hippies in Christendom got to plead their case before the conservative Chicago justice system. Everything about that statement feels weird in 2021, except for the part of useless hippies. Nothing is worse than giving a whiny shitbag a platform to perform and cry for injustices they want to feel by proxy. Whenever the one legit social justice crusader tries to do something, the attention shifts back to the two most useless actors in the film.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 reminds me of two things. First off, I hate Eddie Redmayne and anything that isn’t Harry Potter Pokemon. The second is that Sacha Baron Cohen is getting to be as funny as recent Saturday Night Live. That is to say he made a bunch of new friends that like certain things and if you aren’t catering to that, you’re out. Now, we get to see Cohen capitalize on the dramatic gravitas he missed out by not getting to be Freddie Mercury. But, this time…it’s historic!
Did I hate this movie? Because it must seem like it. The answer is a hardy No. As much as I find Sorkin to be a shitty person, the man can write the hell out of a movie. It’s just that his directing choices lead one to believe that he’s got the chops of a nostalgia fueled TV-movie director. Seeing as how we’re nearly 60 years out from this decade, can we finally move the fuck on from 1960s Americana? We’ve been stuck in this hell longer than video games mined World War II and the AT-AT walkers from Empire Strikes Back.
There are a large amount of people that love legal dramas and historical films. But, I don’t trust a single boomer or eve early-stage Gen X member to accurately portray that time. That’s not to say that I want a Zoomer or Younger Millennial take on anything that happened pre 2012. I don’t need a 20 year old wearing a non-ironic Choker telling me that The Trial of the Chicago 7 is racist and sets a CIS normative agenda. Of course it is and does, Stefan. The past is full of people wanting to pretend it’s Animal House, when at worst it was hanging out with a Kennedy cousin on a secluded beach.
As The Trial of the Chicago 7 carries on, you’ll come to learn the true awfulness of the legal drama. Couple that with Sorkin’s self-appointed moral authority and you’ve got the makings of well…this. There is a reason why modern Awards Season prestige films are failing to connect regardless of the avenue of viewing. It’s not that people will watch a film like this more at home. The average person will bypass this movie almost all the time.
That’s because the modern American has no use for history. It goes beyond Zoomers and Younger Millennials, as they learn the ignorance from their equally worthless parents. So much of everything that has happened in American History since 1945 has come with a promotional effort. Before that break in time, history happened and it was known. Now everything is important or a first. History isn’t allowed to develop or find its equal importance among people.
The worst people to engage in these actions are Boomers because well, how do you top the Greatest Generation? Your grandparents and great-grandparents actually dealt with the Great Depression and World War II. The Boomers whined about getting Polio shots they don’t remember and gloss over everything else they were tied to, while claiming they created modern Pop Culture. Remember that the next time your parents share false information on social media about Nike Satan Shoes and Lil Nas X.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 does one thing correctly. It makes the villains look as elderly and biased as any adult in a Stan Lee comic. If you’re going to tell an Us vs. Them movie, then you should do everything in your power to correctly label the sides. If you’re coming to The Trial of the Chicago 7 for nuance, then you’re barking up the tree. This is a film for the aged liberals who have decided their version of history for the moment.
At some point, I’m going to give a reason for why I considered The Trial of the Chicago 7 to be one of the best films of 2020. Well, here it goes. I’m a Netflix shill. Just kidding, I don’t shill for anyone much less Boomer friendly movies. The Trial of the Chicago 7 did manage to impress me by sticking to its guns in terms of creating a semi Elseworlds hammy take on why hippie power saved the day in Chicago.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 does do something great for our era outside of the Boomer Power message. It highlights the crippling militarized police state that is ruining America. From the top down, we’re facing uncontrolled policing and levels of government mobilized to keep stepping on the necks of its citizens forever. When The Trial of the Chicago 7 highlights how coordinated the FBI and Chicago PD moved against protestors, it’s hard not to draw parallels to now.
Watching young citizens find their voice or rally behind one cause or another is inspiring in a way. But, not so much is their ignorance to the systems that aid and assault them. While The Trial of the Chicago 7 makes everything outside of the 7 seem like people working a conspiracy to destroy freedom, the truth isn’t far off. It’s just a shame that we have very few of the Chicago 7 outside of Bobby Seale left to talk about their experience.
Maybe it’s my grudge against The West Wing, but I have a hard time finding Aaron Sorkin to be anything other than an unreliable narrator. But, why is that? Well, it’s because he’s a dramatist that is always creating structures to sell a point. Sorkin’s work on The Social Network is probably the best scripting work of the last decade in American cinema. So, why does it fall flat in The Trial of the Chicago 7?
It’s because history involving societal warfare doesn’t exactly favor a heroes vs. villains take. While you might chuckle at Eddie Redmayne looking like human digital noise reduction, you miss the point. This should’ve been a warning about how easily governments and bootlickers favor authoritarian rule over true democracy. But, when the film goes off the rails is when it turns into a two hour long lesson about why the Hippies were right.
All culture wars end up getting watered down to the bare trappings of character at play. The Johnson and Nixon Administrations were evil and Hoffman & Pals were right to do what they did. It’s just The Trial of the Chicago 7 needs to say more than taking moral stands. Highlight what happened and address it at face level. Literally every scene with Bobby Seale accomplishes this, but Sorkin has to give President Bartlett level grandstanding to Hoffman and Hayden at every turn.
Movies like this are why I don’t trust Hollywood to address history. But, The Trial of the Chicago 7 makes for great drama. Take your wins where you can get them.