Brilliant writing, screenplay and a teary ending. This is what sums up ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7,’ which released on Netflix today.
Abbie Hoffman was something of a hero in university. The civil rights activist seemed to be that heady mix of razor-sharp intellect coupled with a puckish sense of fun. So there we were, passing the blistering-hot summer days pouring through newspapers and journals from the ‘60s and ‘70s in the American Studies Research Centre in Secunderabad reading about the exhilarating days of love-ins, beat poets and books that were trips on a magic bus. It was, incidentally, part of our paper on American literature and so one could feel suitably righteous giggling over underground comics and Hoffman’s life story, Soon to be a Major Motion Picture.
When Aaron Sorkin, who has written Broadway plays and Hollywood movies such as A Few Good Men, The Social Network and Charlie Wilson’s War, turned his eyes on the infamous trial of anti-Vietnam protestors, one wondered if the thrill of the glory days of endless possibility could be recreated.
The Netflix original film is based on the trial of eight activists of various political persuasions who had gathered in Chicago with thousands of others in August 1968 to protest against the Democratic National Convention. The protesters were part of the larger anti-Vietnam War movement that was roiling America in the late 1960s. The American President, the Democrat Lyndon B Johnson, was being intensely criticized for persisting with an increasingly meaningless war, one that was claiming the lives of numerous young American soldiers.
A Group Of Anti-War Protesters Were Charged In Connection To The 1968 Chicago Riots
America was in the middle of the divisive Vietnam War by the time the Democratic National Convention was announced to be held in Chicago in the summer of 1968. In addition to seeing the formal nomination of then-vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey and his running mate Edmund Muskie, millions of Americans witnessed large-scale protests that turned to violent, angry, and bloody clashes between anti-war protestors, including the group who would be known as the Chicago 8. These only escalated as the convention went on.
Happily, The Trial of the Chicago 7, which Sorkin has written and directed, has succeeded spectacularly in doing precisely that. The credit for this white-knuckle thrill ride goes to the tight writing and the absolutely brilliant performances by an ensemble cast. In August 1968, a protest against the Vietnam war at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago turned violent.
Holding all this incandescent talent together and shining bright as a beacon is Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman. Whether he is teasing the judge with a heartfelt cry of “Father”, when the former says he is not related to Abbie, or recounting the events of the protest saying, “Allan Ginsberg was letting out a war chant to beat poets that they should begin pelting the troops with blank verse,” or making the crucial observation that Hayden “implies possessive pronouns and uses vague noun modifiers” or even quietly admitting “I have never been on trial for my thoughts before,” Cohen is spellbinding.
Cohen, who would soon be seen in the next edition of Borat, has created an unforgettable Hoffman in this prescient tale of the power of an idea.
In the years after the trial, most of the defendants continued on paths of activism: Hayden won a seat in the California Legislature, Hoffman gave lectures and wrote several books, and Weiner joined the Anti-Defamation League as a political consultant. Kunstler became known for defending leftist causes and unpopular clients.
But for most, the convention protests remained the most memorable part of their legacy. The demonstrators they led, and the law enforcement they clashed with, Wicker wrote, “tore the rubber masks of affluence and power and security off American society and gave the nation a new view of itself — challenged and unsure, contorted and afraid, in contention for its own soul.”
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (8) is now streaming worldwide on Netflix.