This year it is going to be even more difficult to watch the
award nominees than usual even though the Oscars have been delayed until the
end of April and you would have thought more of the films would be available on
So far I have only managed to track down one nominee, Aaron
Sorkin’s The Trial of The Chicago Seven, which was offered free on YouTube by
Netflix for a limited period so that they were eligible to be nominated.
This courtroom drama covers the seven who were arrested for allegedly
organising violence at the anti-Vietnam War protests at 1968 Democratic National Convention
where Vietnam apologist Hubert Humphrey was set to be named the Democrats' candidate
for President. These were disparate group of characters, who mostly didn’t know
each other, who were charged with conspiracy and incitement to riot.
It was widely accepted at the time that the Chicago police
had initiated the violence, a view backed up by attorney general,
Ramsay Clark. However when Clark was replaced by John Mitchell, Mitchell set
out to prove otherwise.
All the accused claimed to be peaceful protesters. These included students Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) along with David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), who was a member of a pacifist society.
On the other hand, Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) were well up for a bit of violence although still protested their innocence. While the two others occused, Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and John Froines (Danny Flaherty), seemed to have absolutely no idea why they were there.
There was also an eighth man on trial, Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) of the notorious Black Panther party. Seale was denied the right to proper representation and his case was eventually declared a mistrial but not before he was, among other things, shackled and gagged, at the behest of the judge.
In court, lawyer William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) fought for
the men, struggling both in court and behind the scenes to hold them together as
a united front in a trial that lasted five and a half months.
The film, of such a politically motivated trial, feels
timely with both America and the UK currently struggling with culture wars and
the question of just what actually constitutes freedom of speech these days.
Five of the men were eventually found guilty of inciting a riot and all
seven, plus their lawyer and Seale, were sentenced to prison on multiple counts
of contempt of court. All charges were reversed on appeal.
It’s an interesting and informative film but not one I’d like
to see trouble the Oscars too much.
(Saturday 20th February)