The Trial of the Chicago 7 could have been a great movie. An Academy Award-winning writer, a stellar cast and excellent editing are all involved.
However, one of these ingredients in the film is the main problem with it. The aforementioned writer and director of the film Aaron Sorkin’s unique writing is what prevents it from being a great or even really good film.
The acting by the likes of Eddie Redmayne, Sasha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong is as strong as the latter’s namesake. They deliver every line brilliantly and encompass the characters that Sorkin altered from real-life historical figures with excellent intent.
One of the issues with films based on events from history, however, is that people tend to remember how past issues happened in the movies rather than the real-life issues that took place.
Sorkin can get away with his rose-tinted view of American politics with his acclaimed television show, The West Wing, however, doing this with an important event of 1960s counterculture feels at best misguided and at worst a cynical reframing of huge figures in the anti-war movement’s motivations and manifestos.
While a lot of this can be forgiven if they are minor alterations that add to the film’s story or characters, this isn’t the case here. Having Abbie Hoffmann being in favour of American institutions in his closing testimony during the trial is disingenuous, to say the least.
By making Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character much more sympathetic than the real-life prosecutor again, not only doesn’t make the film better but also will lead viewers to have a much more positive opinion of United States federal prosecutors than they perhaps should. His character also leads us to the worst sin of the movie, it’s ending.
Retconning the trial to end on the defendants reading out the list of the dead from the Vietnam war could have been a truly powerful moment. However, by having the entire courtroom stand in respect and cheer despite the judge’s calls for order, with a swelling orchestra playing in the background, felt more like a Disney or Harry Potter movie than a historical drama.
Not only does the entire room sans the judge and one of the prosecutors stand, but Levitt’s character stands in support of the fallen, in defiance of his fellow lawyer. Again, none of this actually happened, and it feels completely unrealistic.
There are great moments in the film, and some superb performances, however, none of them leave as lasting of an impression as Aaron Sorkin’s ego.
Image Credit: Netflix