While our nation is tearing itself further and further apart between the red and blue halves, this week feels particularly harsh on ourselves. The nation dividing against itself is nothing new to our history, as it’s been going on as far back as the very first presidency. In fact one of those specific accounts, that of which is set in the late 60s Chicago, is the subject of The Trial of the Chicago 7, which is intentionally tailored to show just how little has really changed in the last fifty years because of our refusal to mend our separation.
The thing that really stands out about this courtroom drama is that every single main performance is a solid 9/10, as these actors understand that nothing is more dangerous than a crowd of people who are moving. Joseph Gordon-Levitt in particular stands out from the other actors, especially when he’s seen reacting to the riots that look disturbingly similar to the riots of 2020. All the actors know how to look at each other with pure hatred, even if they’re disguising their outer emotions. While it may not help to have the random black and white news footage in a cop riot, looking at the realism of the actors can pull you right back in from the gimmicky direction.
The great acting though is of no thanks to the poorly structured screenplay; it tries to record each day of the trial at first, but pretty much just stops a third of the way in, leaving the character arcs feeling less defined. It would have benefited more from a concrete main character, rather than being an ensemble picture, but instead it’s hard to find a personal connection with any of these men on either side of the trial. The flashbacks given by each of the key characters are also their own full scenes, sometimes flashbacks appearing within those flashbacks, and ultimately weren’t necessary to show, as they take you out of the moment.
On top of that, the judge handling the trial is way too unfair; although you may argue that this is true to how a real courtroom is like, especially this one, here’s the catch: this biopic disowns any effort in getting the facts of the trial right. A couple of Yippies do an act of mockery to the judge and cops, which wasn’t entirely true to what really happened, but oh, that’s just a small example of how this got carried away with the creative liberties. The ending copies Dead Poets Society to try and be inspirational, even though the event seen never actually happened. So yeah, in its efforts to try and resonate with our culture run by fake news, this whole movie is just a flat-out lie! It instead should have just left it at the piece of dialogue repeated numerous times, “The whole world is watching” because that’s enough to leave a big impression on the viewer, not this sappy Hollywood ending.
The preachiness of the script goes on to call the cops pigs to press the mindset of police brutality, like this is too much of an attempt to appeal to #BlackLivesMatter, and not so much an educated assessment on why the police force is broken today like it was back then. Believe me, if this movie really did care about #BlackLivesMatter and fighting police brutality, it would have given Black people more speaking parts within this majorly White cast, and wouldn’t have just made all the police officer characters the bad guys with no other personality beyond just being mean.
Yet the visuals make up for the blatant disrespect to history; this trial keeps everyone’s appearances distinct by the makeup design; only that was needed to tell you who these characters are, not the captions used to introduce them even when they straight-up introduce themselves in the dialogue at the same time the captions come up. There was still power in subtle storytelling in the details you don’t notice, but the louder excessive additions made them harder to leave an impact. The direction should have just stayed in the present moment of chilly Chicago instead of throwing in crime scene photographs, flashbacks, and news footage for no reason. When the film’s not trying to stand out with the showy editing tricks, you really do feel in the moment; the atmosphere is just right with the Black Panther Party standing out in their “very scary hats” and sunglasses. You can thus tell what culture everyone is from just by their wardrobe, components that had potential to really become a powerful method of hammering in this film’s key point.
Though what will most engage you will mostly likely be what is perhaps the best performance of Mark Rylance’s career right now, in fact, he could win this year’s Oscar for Best Supporting Actor! His performance resonates so deeply with what’s making us angry in 2020 with the gentle firmness in his voice that ironically makes you feel a sense of injustice. Mark is the one anchoring down the film’s chaotic substance and subject, so even when you’re not feeling the sense of sadness you’re expected to feel, you still feel the sentimentality when you look at Mark.
So here’s a goal that we all should aim for in 2021, assuming that things get better with the virus as a vaccine is slowly coming into being. We need to better define what we want our culture to look like to the rest of the world. I don’t think any of us wants all of Earth to see America as being hateful and divisive. We can fix that by treating others of different skin colors with the same amount of love we’d treat someone of common skin color. We can realize that a movie like The Trial of the Chicago 7 should not have to exist, but unfortunately has to right now because of the mess we put ourselves in.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!