The Trial of the Chicago 7

Like it was taking place today

Back in 1968, as the Vietnam War was starting to generate some serious casualties, several disparate anti-war groups converged on Chicago and the Democratic National Convention to air their views on the war. The unarmed protesters famously clashed with club-swinging, tear-gassing police, and seven of their leaders were arrested for inciting riots. 

They included Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) and David Dellenger (John Carroll Lynch). The feds threw in Black Panther leader Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) for no particular reason other than he was a scary black guy (making the total eight, but Seale’s trial was eventually separated).

(Note: It’s clearly complicated. If you don’t know who these people are, I highly recommend first reading the helpful NYT article ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’: What to Know About the Netflix Film. A refresher course written just for you.)

Mark Rylance is the seven’s lawyer William Kunstler, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the less-than-convinced federal prosecutor Richard Schultz, Frank Langella shines as the delightfully smarmy, hugely biased Judge Julius Hoffman, and Michael Keaton shows up for a heroic cameo as former SecState Ramsey Clark.

Okay, so why should you watch a courtroom dramatization of events of more than 50 years ago? Read the papers and the conflicting accounts of who is responsible for today’s political unrest; the cops or the unarmed protesters. 

Acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Newsroom) does the directing himself this time. It’s also highly entertaining, it never sags, the characterizations are razor-sharp, and the denouement is particularly satisfying. On Netflix. See it. Today. (120 min)