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“The Trial of the Chicago 7” — “The Whole World Is Watching” review by Ron Wells

October 27, 2020
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a wild and piercing time-trip back to a time and place in which “the whole world was watching” a 1969 Chicago courtroom where anti-war defendants were on trial for conspiracy and inciting to riot. 

Aaron Sorkin has written and directed yet another captivating film against the backdrop of one of the most bizarre court cases this country has ever seen. As always, Sorkin has a definite point of view and changes some of the actual events to fit his narrative. It doesn’t matter. The movie captures the essence of the anti-war movement of the 1960’s, and the conflicts which evolved from it.
What is fascinating is the people on trial who are all caught up in this whirlwind are so very different. The 60’s had many loud and divergent voices, and this courtroom drama captures each disparate faction in remarkable ways, from the Yippees to the SDS to the Black Panthers, while in the background John Mitchell and Ramsey Clark fight their own battle.
The actors are all first rate. This is an all star cast capturing Sorkin’s pitch perfect dialogue as only fine actors can do. Whether it be Mark Rylance as William Kunstler, Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, Yahya Abdul Mateen II as Bobby Seale or Frank Langella as Judge Hoffman, each and every role in this film is perfectly cast and executed. These are actors at the top of their game speaking words that only Aaron Sorkin could write.
Yes, some of the facts, including the ending, have been distorted to make a point. But this is a film in which that is almost inconsequential as it makes a larger point about the people who were drawn together to fight a system which was sending a generation of young men to die in a war that was unnecessary and unpopular. At the same time, it is a signal to those living today about the power of protest, and how the powers that be will push back in ways that are both expected and unexpected. 
For those of us who lived during this trial, and wondered if we too would be sent to our deaths in a war on the other side of the world for reasons that made no sense what-so-ever, The Trial of the Chicago 7 brings it all back in clear, precise, and sometimes horrifying terms. 
The clash of larger than life characters fighting on opposing sides is as relevant today as it was then. What Sorkin has made clear is that the battle never ends because democracy, courtrooms, and the law, are often very messy ideals and concepts fighting to be altered or kept intact. 
To see Bobby Seale gagged in the courtroom and hear Abbie Hoffman say at one point, “I’ve never been on trial for my thoughts before,” is to recall a radically unique and remarkable time in American history. The 1960’s are gone, but as is seen here, not forgotten. It is in many ways reminiscent of today when judges are activists and people protest in the streets while police officers with and without badges clash violently with outraged citizens.
The whole world was watching then, just as the whole world is watching now. In a year bereft of good films, this is the best one so far.
— review by Ron Wells

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