By Yashodha Hettiarachchi (Sri Lanka)
Long post. Read only if you’re into movies and affairs of the world. Has no spoilers.
The whole world is watching!
After a long and an extremely painful (yes, painful) Sunday, I sought solace in the company of Netflix…which suggested me The Trial of the Chicago 7. Little did I know that Netflix was offering me a myriad of emotions on a nicely decorated platter.
A perfectly timed film, ‘gifted’ to the United States of America in 2020, when it’s drowned in the pandemic along with the resurgence of BLM in national headlines. What made me watch this movie was the word ‘trial’, as I’m a big fan of courtroom drama. If you can survive the initial barrage of information thrown at you in the form of multiple characters and situations, this could be one of the best movies based on true events that you have ever watched. I, for one, feel that this is a must watch for every cinephile.
Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, yes, he who writes the best dialogues, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is probably the film of the year 2020. If you don’t know who Sorkin is, go watch A Few Good Men, Social Network and Steve Jobs. Oh, and he’s also the writer of the very successful show The Newsroom. There are more but I have watched only those, and can vouch for his ability in delivering the best political dramas out there. This movie is based on the 1969 trial of the infamous Chicago 7, who faced federal charges of conspiracy and incitement of the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. For someone who is not familiar with this confusing chapter of the American history, the movie is a lot to take in. But, one can also use this as an opportunity to read up more about these events and how they impacted the justice system of the US. It makes us aware of the reality of the system and how it functions. No, actually, how it gets functioned by those invisible powerful, swollen headed, men and their whispered discussions in closed rooms. And we are pulled into the awareness that, sometimes, clashes between those powerful heads could land powerless people, like you and me, in trouble…If, we poke our noses in certain businesses, that belong to them. Example? Changing the system. This film enlightens you of the evilness and arrogance within any system where there’s an imbalance of power… Example? Wake up!!
As a Sri Lankan, who thinks that we live in the worst system of all, you will learn that ‘green pastures’ are not really ‘green’ as pictured. Because from what’s been happening in USA, yesterday and today, we can stamp the words ‘history repeats’ clearly and confidently, on it. This term could apply to any society which refuses to wake up to the reality shown by the movie, again and again. So if we want to see greener pastures, down under would be a better option than the world’s greatest…I’d say.
As I told you earlier, the initial part of the film overwhelms you, and you might find yourself panting, like a cricketer doing fielding practice. Sorkin introduces the Chicago 8, which later becomes 7, their allies, lawyers, leaders, other protesters, contexts…one after another. But the patience you develop at this stage would help you to survive till the end of the movie, while suppressing the urge to virtually kill the judge, Hoffman. The defense attorney, Kunstler, wonderfully portrayed by Mark Rylance, provides some relief to the audience by his exasperated actions directed at the snobbish judge. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays the role of Schultz the prosecutor, succeeds in showing the inner turmoil by his expressions and tone in dialogue delivery…and even by the way he moves.
The flow of the movie, which goes back and forth in between dialogues and contexts, does not interrupt the bond between the audience and the characters due to the masterful writing of Sorkin. And the cast enhances the experience further. This is where I bow down to the power of communication. Apart from his stand ups, used as an effective medium to narrate the story, Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, makes us believe that he IS Abbie…especially when he says “Give me a moment would you, friend? I’ve never been on trial for my thoughts before,” when the prosecutor expresses concern over his delay in answering a certain question. When Abbie says that his contempt for the government is nothing compared to the contempt that the government has for him, we come into the realization that he is one of us. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, playing Bobby Seale in the movie, does justice not only to his character but also to every Black American whose voice goes unheard in a system contaminated by inequity and prejudice. I couldn’t help but mutter, “Why America, it’s been 40 years, but still…?” Then again, I hear myself echoing, “Why Sri Lanka?”
It is not possible to talk about each and every actor as in every frame, all of them prove, that they are the perfect choice for the role. Because from Jeremy Strong’s portrayal of the highly emotional weed smoker Jerry Rubin, to the SDS, the Black Panthers, the Yippies, and the snobbish rule makers, they represent today’s society, even though this is a decades old story. The soft spoken misfit Rennie Davis, is perfectly personated by Alex Sharp, who by the way, is the wheel-turner at more than one bend of the story.
The cast gives stellar performance that it’s impossible for me to even think about a different set of actors. This movie was to be made in 2007, with Spielberg as the director. I’m glad that it did not happen because, hell, these people even brought in Michael Keaton at the most important juncture of the story only to make us fall back on to our pillows in frustration, afterwards. But that’s how power works, my friend.
The only regret for the movie buffs is not being able to watch one of the greatest courtroom dramas on larger screens, sitting among like-minded people and laugh together when the defendants say ‘overruled’, in unison. I couldn’t stop laughing out loud at every witty riposte of the defendants and their attorneys to the taunts of the judge. The ending deserves to be applauded by thousands of hands, in theatres, standing in front of the screens, as it is one of the greatest climaxes you will ever see in a movie.
Finally, if you are not a fan of any of the subjects, or the actors I have mentioned, watch the movie to see how Eddie Redmayne’s voice changes with the American accent. The speech nerd in me was analyzing every word falling from Tom Hayden’s (the character he plays) mouth that I had to replay some of his finest scenes. Including the final one. Yes, the whole world will be watching this one, Sorkin. Take a bow!