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From The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020), dir. Aaron Sorkin (image courtesy Netflix)

In 1969, eight left-wing activists went to federal court, accused of inciting the mass uprising that accompanied the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Now, Netflix presents a fictionalized take on these events, The Trial of the Chicago 7, written and directed by liberal darling Aaron Sorkin. But despite supposedly being one of the most politically perspicacious writers in the US, Sorkin had never heard of this historical episode before being approached about this film, and proves an ill fit for the story.

As a director, Sorkin can barely muster any verve, portraying the highly charged atmosphere of the times with persistent flatness both in and out of the courtroom. As a writer, he cannot hope to properly capture the radical spirit of his protagonists. His thoroughly middle-of-the-road sensibilities mean that he gives a wholly ahistorical sympathetic portrayal to Nixon attack dog prosecutor Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) out of some misguided need for “balance.” The performances span the whole range from tolerable Oscar bait (Sacha Baron-Cohen appropriately cast as yippie prankster Abbie Hoffman) to bad Oscar bait (Eddie Redmayne, being himself). Just watch the animated documentary Chicago 10 instead.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is now available on Netflix.

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Dan Schindel

Dan Schindel is Associate Editor for Documentary at Hyperallergic. He lives and works in New York.

3 replies on “When Nixon Tried to Blame Police Riots on Left-Wing Activists”

  1. This review is quite sour. We saw this film last night, and thought it was very pertinent to our times and quite well put together. I don’t like historical films that distort or misrepresent things- this one seemed okay though.

  2. agreed. But sorkin is only concerned with his own cleverness. Of which not much is on display. Though I did not like Cohn as hoffman….but the only reason to watch is mark rylance as bill kuntsler.

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