It might seem like ancient history to young people today, but the events of the protests held at the 1968 Democratic Convention are as relevant today as they were then. Activists Tom Hayden, as played by Oscar® winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) were urging people to hold peaceful protests about the young lives being lost in the war in Viet Nam. Meeting up with the founders of the Yippie Movement Abby Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), Hayden and Sharp disagree with their chaotic approach to protesting and bringing about change in the government. (As a side note, Hayden went on to marry actress Jane Fonda).
Despite what may have been a dry and unpalatable subject, director Aaron Sorkin has made sure that the film is exciting and visually fluid throughout. Action scenes of police brutality on the protestors looks graphic but realistic. Although the subjects of the story began going to Chicago with only conducting non-violent protests, things got out of hand as the Chicago police allegedly began brutalizing the crowds and beating them back to stop their protesting the war. All of this turmoil was world-wide news, giving the United States another black eye it didn’t need. The war in Viet Nam was enough of a stain on our democracy as it was. The young people had enough and wanted it stopped.
Unfortunately, the so-called Chicago 7 were blamed for all the disturbances and were put on trial. Leading the pack were Abby Hoffman, played by Sacha Baron Cohen. Although the real Hoffman was born in Massachusetts, Baron Cohen affects a laughable “Bostonian” accent. However, his dialogue is sprinkled with many funny bon mots, thus retaining his reputation as a comic. The superb ensemble cast contains some of Hollywood’s best -- although not superstars -- actors. The exceptions are Oscar® winners Redmayne and Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) as lawyer William Kuntsler, plus Oscar® nominee Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) as the presiding judge.
That trial judge was a little prejudiced against the Chicago 7 men on trial. He was criticized for outlandish behavior, bias, and insane rulings. Langella does some of his best work on this film by displaying irrational behavior leaning to a slight case of madness. He definitely should be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor role.
Praise also goes to actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, as alleged criminal Bobby Seale. The judge was obviously prejudiced against this black man and treated him with contempt. The outrage as shown by actor Abdul-Mateen comes across as an electrifying performance that should also be recognized.
Special mention should be made about Joseph Gordon-Levitt as opposing trial lawyer Richard Schultz. Having watched Gordon-Levitt perform since he was a little boy, his maturing into a fine adult actor is satisfying to an admiring reviewer.
Kudos to the technical side of the film. Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael ends up as art museum quality. Costumes by Susan Lyall are period-correct for the Sixties hippie crowd. The talented team of Shane Valentino and Andrew Baseman created the film’s outstanding art direction.
Courtroom dramas are usually exciting to see, and this one is no exception. It may have a little Hollywood lip gloss applied to it, but what evolves is two hours of riveting entertainment.
(Released by Netflix and rated R” for language throughout, some violence, bloody images, and drug use.)