The Trial of the Chicago 7

Movie review by
Jennifer Green, Common Sense Media
The Trial of the Chicago 7 Movie Poster Image
Popular with kids
Courtroom drama has relevant political messages, violence.
  • R
  • 2020
  • 129 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 10 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Some values are worth fighting for. Democracy rests on the integrity of those in positions of power (governments, police, judges). Institutionalized racism was alive and well in the late 1960s. Anti-war protestors and progressives, or people who want to change the "system," come in a lot of different variations.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The defendants are on trial for organizing protests against the Vietnam War, where thousands of men their own age had been killed on duty for the US military. They -- and their lawyers -- display integrity, idealism, and courage in organizing protests and standing up to armed police, a corrupt judge, and racist acts. Two of the men snub their noses regularly at what they perceive as the unjust, "political" trial. Two other defendants seem to respect the courtroom and legal system more, which raises some in-fighting among the group over methods and principles. Another, who is a member of the Black Panther Party, is being treated unjustly, and even illegally, by the judge.

Violence

Actual footage is mixed with fictionalized images of police spraying tear gas into crowds and beating protestors with wooden clubs. Protestors are shown with bloodied faces and heads. Several are pushed through a glass window after police have chased them down with heavy weaponry. Two men attack a woman and start undressing her before another man beats them back. Protestors talk about burning the "pigs" and offer lessons on making Molotov cocktails (shown at work when two men throw them into a US Army recruiting center). There's talk of the roughly 5,000 Americans killed to date in Vietnam and of young men sent to "be slaughtered" in the war. The deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy are referenced, including talk of a bullet going through the latter's brain. Two court guards are instructed by the judge to take a Black witness into the back room, where they beat, gag, and cuff him. The same judge has shown bias against the sole Black witness and his companions in the courtroom. Crime scene photos depict a home shootout where another Black man was killed by police, "executed" according to autopsy reports.

Sex

References to sexual activity include requests for park permits for "public fornication," suggestions of sleeping "with someone you just met," and a bar that's known as "a watering hole for Chicago's political class and their hookers." A woman answers the phone and seems to be answering racially-targeted questions about her sex life. An undercover cop tells protestors, "I'm your guy for ass, weed, whatever you need."

Language

Various forms of "f--k," "damn" and "ass." Also "s--t," "c--t," "hell," "Christ."

Consumerism

Brands mentioned but not promoted for consumption: Brandeis, US Army, Johnny Walker, Chicago Tribune, Oscars, Hilton, Boy Scouts.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes and joints and drink liquor in bars, parks, and homes. A character is asked if he's "stoned," and he answers, "Yeah, are you?" There's mention of "weed," "grass," "dope," and "drugs."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Trial of the Chicago 7 tackles mature issues, involves scenes of violence inflicted by police, and depicts some authority figures making unethical decisions. Viewers with no context of the history behind this courtroom drama might feel lost at times or even bored. The film involves a lot of talking, which could fly over younger viewers' heads. But the main characters, the trial defendants and their lawyers, are idealistic about their rights to free speech and the plausibility of protesting for social justice, topics of great relevance today. They show integrity, seriousness, humor, and courage in standing up for their beliefs, including in tough scenes showing Black men abused by court guards or "executed" by police. The protests the seven are on trial for turned into bloody riots when protestors clashed with the thousands of heavily-armed police sent in, and these scenes, which combine fictional and archival footage, show police spraying tear gas into crowds and beating protestors with wooden clubs, resulting in bloody faces and heads. The times in general were violent, with thousands dying in Vietnam and political and social figures assassinated. There are sexual references and language, but not visual content. Language includes "f--k," "damn," "ass," "s--t," "c--t," "hell," and "Christ."

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byHydroPlaysXband... December 5, 2020

Great film. Aaron Sorkin usual.

Riveting thanks to great performances and screenplay. Somewhere in between 4 to 5 stars.
Violence: Nothing way too graphic, but scenes of protest show people... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bySatarell March 13, 2021

One of the best films I've seen in a long time

This movie was absolutely amazing! The movie contains a good amount of swearing but nothing that a 13-year-old couldn't already be exposed to. If you are s... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bysocialistabbie July 11, 2021

Incredible

This movie is incredible. It is a mature. BUT, TEENS CAN HANDLE IT. It is very important and relevant. Below I will try to fairly describe whats in the movie.... Continue reading

What's the story?

The year is 1969 and 8 men are brought to trial for organizing anti-war protests the prior year outside the Democratic National Convention in THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7. The protests had been organized without the proper permits, and when thousands of riot police are sent in, they turn bloody. The defendants and their lawyers (Mark Rylance, Ben Shenkman) are convinced the charges are politically motivated, and in the general social upheaval of the late 1960s, there's a wide breach between the traditional bureaucracy and growing social movements. The new Nixon government has called in young prosecutor Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to take the case, assigned a seemingly unscrupulous judge (Frank Langella). Among the defendants are hippies Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), of the Youth International Party (known as the Yippies), the more clean-cut Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and Black Panther Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Is it any good?

THis is a suspenseful and sometimes eloquent film with inspired casting that paints '60s-era anti-war activists as flawed heroes up against a corrupt bureaucracy. You'd expect nothing less from the creator of that beacon of principled progressive politics, The West Wing. Writer-director Sorkin's focus on the trial rather than the bloody riots of 1968, which we don't glimpse until more than 45 minutes into The Trial of the Chicago 7, allows the actors to shine with Sorkin standards like fast-paced intellectual sparring and moving displays of courage and righteousness. Baron Cohen, Redmayne, and Rylance were particularly inspired choices in an entirely male-centric cast (and story). They embody their characters' demeanors and accents as well as their passion and intelligence.

The world could use more Hoffmans and Haydens, as they're depicted by Sorkin: whip-smart, committed social critics with, in Hoffman's case, a razor-sharp wit and no fear of authority. In one of the film's best lines, Hoffman sneers at the prosecutor's questioning: "Give me a moment, would you, friend? I've never been on trial for my thoughts before." Some historical knowledge is helpful but not essential, and also not a spoiler here. A 7-minute introduction confuses as much as it contextualizes, giving too much information too fast. The film's relevance to contemporary social upheaval could not be clearer, particularly in the subtexts of racial injustice and excessive use of police force. It's hard to imagine this wasn't fully intentional. At one point, for example, the camera closes in on a protestor's sign reading "Lock them up!" A later scene closes to voiceover chants that "the whole world is watching."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the historical events depicted in The Trial of the Chicago 7. What did you know before, and what did you learn from the movie?

  • What other films have you watched that revolve around courtrooms?

  • What parallels can you make between the movements and protests portrayed in the film and some of the social upheaval today in the US?

  • Have you watched other films or series made by the writer-director of this film, Aaron Sorkin? What common themes or techniques did you detect?

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