Review: The Trial of the Chicago 7

I had been afraid to watch it to be honest, for fear that it might be a typical hysterical historical hunk of cheese. I was right.

18 October 2020 | James Porteous | Clipper Media

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)

I have to say, as I watched the first seven minutes of Aaron Sorkin’s fictional biographical The Trial of the Chicago 7, now showing on Netflix, I was thrilled.

I had been afraid to watch it to be honest, for fear that it might be a typical hysterical historical hunk of cheese.

But those seven minutes so captured The Moment, the assassinations of MLK and Bobby Kennedy, and in passing the horrors of Vietnam and the introduction of the main characters of the program.

Chicago Eight

I held my breath. Here we go, I thought. The moment of truth. Sorkin was going to hit the fucking ball out of the fucking park and heads would roll and everyone watching would see, perhaps for the first time, Daley and Nixon’s tin soldiers beating the ever-loving crap out of a bunch of unarmed, peaceful anti-war protests.

And then.. full stop. Absolute, complete full stop, quite literally seconds away from showing the actual protest.

Cut to suits in Washington, DC.

No protests were shown. No video of the police beating people nor the bloodied innocent protesters. Nothing.

The pace slowed to a crawl as if telling the viewer to shut the fuck up about the damn protest and forget about everything they had seen in the first seven minutes.

Indeed, the rest of the program centered largely on the corporate-style government lawyers who, along with the insane judge, were depicted as the only ones really fighting to save democracy.

At the 15-minute mark, I went to the kitchen to grab a beer and then came back and checked my email, all without bothering to hit the pause button.

The ‘liberal’ part of the entertainment had concluded.

I kept an eye on the proceedings, but it required no more effort than one would usually expend watching a US ‘criminal law’ show.

You know, mustard, candlestick, sniffing dogs, you don’t need no stinking lawyer pal.

And so The Trial of the Chicago 7 became a typical Hollywood entertainment, one that seemed to promise the viewer they were going to bear witness to a Big Story about history and then did everything in its power to do the exact opposite.

It was akin to watching that lame Jimi Hendrix ‘biography’ that featured not a single Hendrix song because the ‘estate’ refused them permission to feature any of his music in the film. Soldier on.

In short, someone somewhere made a conscious decision to ignore the real storyline because that might necessitate dialogue and visuals and explanations referencing the real and true heartbreaking toll of the horrible, endless, war and the daily images of bloodied young boys in body bags who were ‘fighting’ in that far away land.

And what of ‘the trial’ itself? Time and time again, then as now, there were opportunities to finally publicly admit that this was a political trial, but that did not happen.

The Other Hoffman refused to admit it then because he knew he could get away with it and one cannot help but conclude that Sorkin did the same thing here because otherwise he might have been required to, you know, sort of shift focus from the caricature of The Other Hoffman, whether accurate or not, and devote screen time to the war, the protests, the government’s control of the political trial…

And yes, there were some almost flippant references to The War and by gosh there was one dramatic and emotional climax where one of a character stands up and reads the names of the dead from That War, but even that was sugar-coated, fictional pap. Some names were mentioned during the real trial but not nearly in this fashion. So even the entertainment climax was fake.

But it served its purpose in that it leaves the viewer with the impression that everyone was on the ‘right side’ all along, especially, the hapless government toddies, and one could be forgiven for thinking they had borne witness to an anti-war saga overflowing with passion and commitment to freedom of speech and democracy and a legal system that protects everyone.

If only.

A few weeks after half-watching this entertainment I went to YouTube in search of a repeat of the Preakness Stakes 2020 race and I found it but, at just over 2:30, it was an almost completely amateur effort. It had a long, long overhead shot during which it was impossible to identify the horses, but it did manage to return to Earth for the ending. And it was a great ending. It was a photo finish.

But the clip did not show a still shot of the photo finish nor any shots of the winning horse or their owners or just about anything else. The clip finished almost at once. I wanted to write to them and ask if they ran out of betamax at the end or the race.

It was not big deal in the grand scheme of things, of course, but NBC owns the full rights to the race and this video and so this absurd piece of crap will be the only footage anyone will ever see when they search for this race.

And so it is with The Trial of the Chicago 7, I’m afraid.

It is a sloppy, rather heartless depiction of one of the defining moments in US political history and it might end up being the only lasting testament to that story for decades to come.

And it is worth noting that, since I first wrote this item, the program has gone on to win scads of awards, a shocking testament to the power of this beached whale of political abstention, serving as the final nail in the coffin of a hideous war that never was.

Mission accomplished.

Either you are with us or against us.

Trick me once…

James Porteous/ Clipper Media


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