On the horizon the end of the sixties is glimpsed and, with it, the decline of the hippie movement and eight years of Democratic government that began with Kennedy’s Camelot and continued with countercultural revolutions around the world, including the fight for social rights and sexual liberation. The coming years of conservatism became palpable when the Democratic Party elected Hubert Humphrey to face the Republican Nixon in the 1968 Presidential Election. “When it comes to war and social justice, the positions of Humphrey and Nixon are so close that it is difficult to distinguish them,” explains Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), the leader of the Student Association for a Democratic Society, at the beginning of ‘The Chicago Trial of the Seven’, the last film as director and screenwriter of the pope Aaron Sorkin. After a brief stint in theaters, the Chicago Seven have arrived on Netflix this Friday and are running as main competitors for the Oscars.
With that simple phrase and after a few minutes of real footage with which Sorkin draws the political and social situation in 1968, with the deaths in Vietnam counted in the tens of thousands, the racial tensions on the verge of snow (and fire) and leaders like Martin Luther King y Robert Kennedy murdered. “Doctor King is dead; he had a dream and now he has a bullet in his head,” says Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) in a sample of the brilliance and sharp humor of Sorkin’s dialogues, which does not decline in this script in which the procedural genre, drama and comedy are diluted as in a Molotov cocktail. Just a few quick brushstrokes serve to introduce the dozen protagonists of a political trial that faced the leaders of different associations such as the black panthers, the International Youth Party –yippies– or pacifists against the Vietnam War against the Federal Government, which accused them of conspiracy.
They hardly knew each other, but they were jointly indicted as responsible for the riots that took place in Grant Park in Chicago on August 28 of that year, where they converged 15,000 protesters repressed by the Police with phenacyl chloride (tear gas) and with a baton, which did not prevent them from trying to reach the Conrad Hilton Hotel, where both candidates had installed their operations centers. Sorkin once again uses real footage from the time and flashbacks interspersed with the recreation of the trial to try to piece together the events of that day, regardless of the sentence. In his way of narrating, Sorkin also resorts to montage, where quickly jump from one voice to another in a puzzle with pretensions of objectivity and that gives rhythm to a film that never loses it.
After premiering as director con ‘Molly’s Game‘, Sorkin returns to political criticism with another slap that questions the separation of powers and impartial justice. Throughout the film, members of the FBI, the Government, the judiciary, and civil society appear, and it proposes how the Chicago seven were scapegoats in a movement to repress movements critical of the ‘establishment’. The defendants were prosecuted under an anachronistic law that had never been used before and found themselves facing reactionary judge Justin Hoffman (Frank Langella) that, at least in the film, is portrayed as a mere political instrument. “This court is a pantomime [‘bullshit’]”, the defendants said publicly, putting on the table the possibility of an adulterated judgment, an option that attacked the foundations of American democracy.
And Spielberg nostalgically recalls in his cinema an America that was once more pure and just, Sorkin has a much more disenchanted look with the power relations hidden from public opinion. The secretary of one of the bigwigs’ offices also says at the beginning: “They are witnessing a historic moment”. That moment is the exchange of a painting in the office, a portrait of this or that hero for that of another. It is the joke with which Sorkin wants to influence those characters of the ‘establishment’ who did not realize (or realize) where the great social changes really happen. Idiots looking at the finger. Especially in that year of global catharsis in which young people in unison disobeyed their parents and their rules.
Sorkin connects this historical context with the current one, where police repression continues to take minutes on the news and a conservative current is breathed in world politics again. ‘The Chicago Seven Trial’ is, more than a cry in favor of insubordination, an incitement to defend the ideals of equality and against injustice. Sorkin recalls that social advances are produced thanks to the blood of those who fought for them – fallen into oblivion, on many occasions – and appeals to individual responsibility, to moral decisions that influence collective changes.
And he does it without bitterness, with a sense of humor and emotion, and with a seamless cast including Sacha Baron Cohen, John Carroll Lynch, Mark Rylance and Michael Keaton. If something is ‘The Trial of the Chicago Seven’, apart from Swiss engineering, it is a solid and weighty film, which although it does not invent anything new, does deep analysis on the perversion of a system who refuses to acknowledge mistakes and who, when threatened, responds with authoritarianism.