Rated R. There is fairly regular vulgar language and drug references, the real content involves the uncensored look at police brutality and racial inequality. When it is violent, it is uncomfortably violent. I would love for every demographic to watch this, but it is definitely and undeniably an R-rated movie.
DIRECTOR: Aaron Sorkin
Like, I get why so many people really get into The West Wing based almost entirely on his movie credits. He's such a fun writer. His stuff seems so cinematic. Now, I'm already starting to get into the analysis element of this blog, but that might be one of those things that is actually a criticism of him. After all, this ending, as much as I enjoyed it, is really cornball. I mean, next level. I suppose that I should do some research and look into what really happened at the real Chicago 7 trial. But as of right now, my view of history is that Tom Hayden stood up and read the list of fallen from the Vietnam conflict.
If Sound of Metal is the quiet, independent drama about a personal story, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the movie that feels like the cinematic epic. This movie has this absolutely stellar cast, a script that won't quit, and tugs on the heartstrings throughout. It's one of those movies that makes me ashamed that I didn't know more about this trial. But Sorkin is really good at doing something that conservatives don't like talking about: it makes America not look great sometimes. Sorkin loves contrasting and juxtaposing what America should be in a progressive state and what America actually is. Normally, --and I'm not sure that I'm completely allowed to say this --he tends to make progressives as the heroes while making conservatives come across as pretty rotten. And he definitely does do that with The Trial of the Chicago 7. Again, I've only seen the first season of The West Wing, so that might not be completely fair.
But he doesn't mind casting a little bit of shade on the progressives of this story. The seven come across as heroic for the most part. But there is the notion that they also can be so heroic because they stand on the shoulders of the suffering around them. Everyone who is on trial has a degree of privilege. Perhaps Sorkin is commenting on his own privilege with this one. The seven people actually being represented by council are constantly aware of the injustice happening to Bobby Seale. As much as I am an advocate for what the seven are fighting for, we really have to look at the injustice being done to Bobby Seale, a Black Panther in this story. Seale straight up says that the only reason that he's being tried with the seven is because he is a Black man and that scares juries. There's this guilt that washes over the seven from this moment. It's this telling feeling that says that Seale is completely right. As much as the Seven are fighting for a noble cause, they know that they couldn't possibly even have a chance of basic human rights if they were all Black men. Their courage came from the knowledge that they can't be killed or beaten publicly without backlash.
But Sorkin really does point out the problems with the American justice system, especially when it comes to the relationship between the police and the court system. Because all of this falls under the jurisdiction of criminal justice, the judge clearly comes in with a sense of bias against the Seven. The Seven have questioned the role of police in society, which questions the role that the court system presents. While Sorkin doesn't go as far as to say that it is impossible to get a fair trial when you are against the police, it does imply that there's going to be a heavy amount of bias behind that decision.
Because the story of Bobby Seale, despite being the secondary plot of the movie, is the soul of the film. For all of the exposition that the movie offers about the role of protest rights (of which I'm a firm believer), Bobby Seale's rights constantly being violated is the focus of the film. Yes, I watched the film with the knowledge that I wanted to see if they could get a fair trial for the Seven. I don't deny that I wanted justice for the protesters. But in every scene, there's Bobby Seale being abused by this judge who harbors such hatred for his power being questioned that I had to look at my blessings as a White American. It's actively depressing to think of the advantages that I have because I'm not a Black Panther. And --being something that I've thought about lately --how we still in white America think of the Black Panther Party as exclusively a terrorist organization. Heck, Forrest Gump alone has a really messed up portrayal of the Black Panthers. But between Judas and the Black Messiah and The Trial of the Chicago 7, I'm starting to see that the Black Panthers, while not being a perfect organization, was the response to an America that actively relegated Black Americans to second class citizens. It was the voice that had to be loud because all other voices were suppressing the voice. It's in the beating that the culmination of actions is heard.
Similarly, the film kind of has to question the role of the advocate. Richard Schultz for the prosecution has a pretty gross political stance from my perspective. But Schultz also seems to be a good man. He acknowledges universal truths and rights as part of who he is as a lawyer. The role of the lawyer is one of those altruistic roles, at least it should be. Schultz is there for the planning meeting for the protests. He's this guy who reads the room of the Nixon administration and has this fine line to walk. He understands that the agenda of the administration is a crummy one, to make a public display of anarchists. But he also knows that a crime has been committed. He's really trying to play both sides by knowing that there needs to be a prosecution and his own understanding of fairness might at least fulfill the role of a prosecutor. But Schultz never really opposes the choices that the judge offers. The judge keeps violating rule after rule and right after right and, despite the fact that Schultz is visibly shaken by the judge's decisions, he never really holds back. He still comes at the Chicago 7 in full force, knowing that they are receiving unfair treatment.
And that's where Sorkin is smart. He takes something that I would not find interesting in the least and makes it really accessible. To a certain extent, that involves manipulating me emotionally. That's what entertainment does, to a certain extent, I suppose. But he takes this really complex dynamic of characters and doesn't forget that they are there to tell a story. Now, I don't pretend to think that the real trial played out as cinematically as all this. I mean, I saw The Social Network. The world of Aaron Sorkin follows act structures and has entertainment value. But he also gets to the heart of a matter in a way that a lot of other storytellers struggle with. I'm watching The United States vs. Billie Holiday and it isn't having the same effect, despite the fact that both could have the core of a court case in the center of the film. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a powerhouse of a film that I wouldn't mind seeing win the Best Picture.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.