THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (2020)

October 15, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness.  Tom Hayden, Alex Sharpe, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Bobby Seale, Lee Weiner, and John Froines. Those were the defendants charged with conspiracy and inciting a riot at the 1968 National Democrat Convention in Chicago. So why were there 8, when they are known as the Chicago 7? Well, writer-director Aaron Sorkin (Oscar winner for THE SOCIAL NETWORK, 2010) not only answers that question, but also fills in many of the blanks for those of us who have known only the highlights of the story.

This story has been told many times before in books, articles, and other movies, but it’s never before had Sorkin’s focus on the spoken word and the transcripts pulled from the 1969 trial. For those familiar with Sorkin’s work, his penchant for absurdly rapid and a bit too on-the-nose chatter is renowned. Here, he has assembled a truly superb cast that revels not just in the words, but in the historical aspect and the modern day relevance. There are a lot of characters to get familiar with, and Sorkin doesn’t delay in introducing each of them by name and affiliation.

Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne, Oscar winner for THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, 2014) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) represent Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and are focused on the lives being lost in the war. Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) are the leaders of the Youth International Party (the Yippies) and their goal is to disrupt the system through chaos. Actual Boy Scout leader David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch) is a conscientious objector and part of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, aptly nicknamed “The Mobe”. Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is the leader of the Black Panthers, while Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and John Froines (Danny Flaherty, “The Americans”) were protesters, but can’t understand why they are lumped in with the more recognizable group leaders.

William Kunstler (Oscar winner Mark Rylance, BRIDGE OF SPIES, 2015) and Leonard Weinglass (Ben Shenkman) are the attorneys for all except Bobby Seale, whose attorney was unable to attend due to a medical emergency. Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the hand-picked prosecutor for the Justice Department, while Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) is the presiding judge. Other key players include Kelvin Harrison Jr as Fred Hampton, leader of the Chicago Black Panthers, and the always great Michael Keaton as former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Lewis.

There is a lot going on here for a courtroom drama. The diverse personalities alone make this a must watch. Flashbacks to the violence and the interactions between police and protesters are mixed in between testimonies. We are also taken into the Conspiracy House, where conversations and debates between the accused get quit colorful. There are also glimpses of Abbie Hoffman’s college campus speeches/performances which illuminate his thinking, and some of the best conflicts occur when Abbie and Hayden are going at each other in such contrasting manners. Langella’s Judge Hoffman is a true lightning rod in the courtroom. Is he biased or incompetent … or both? His behavior is what drives attorney Kunstler, the ultimate believer in the law, to finally understand what Abbie had said all along … this was a political trial – a show of governmental power, and an attempt to quash anti-war activists. This trial occurred mere months after Nixon was elected, and though they never share a scene, the sword-fight between newly appointed Attorney General John Mitchell (John Doman) and outgoing AG Ramsey Lewis (Keaton) is a thing of beauty. Keaton especially shines in his two scenes.

“The Whole World is Watching” became a common protest chant as the government worked to shut down the movement to end the Vietnam War. Netflix and Sorkin have capitalized on the current political and social environment to demonstrate what happened 50 years ago … the more things change, the more they stay the same. Abbie Hoffman states, “I’ve never been on trial for my thoughts before”, and that ties in brilliantly with the desire for Cultural Revolution. Hayden’s intellect in on display here, and Rylance is the real standout as Kunstler, though Langella (the Judge) and Abdul-Mateen (Bobby Seale) aren’t far behind. The scene where Seale is bound and gagged in an American courtroom is one of the most uncomfortable moments I can recall. There may be some questionable directorial choices, but the story and performances make this one to watch.

Premiers on Netflix on October 16, 2020

watch the trailer


ASK FOR JANE (2019)

May 16, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Sometimes the message of a movie is so much more important than the production quality that we can look past the ‘how’ that would normally make watching a chore, and instead focus on the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ to find enlightenment. Writer-director Rachel Carey’s first feature film, co-written with Cait Cortelyou, tells the fascinating story of The Jane Collective … also known as ‘The Janes’ and ‘The Abortion 7’. It’s yet another true life story that finds us asking ourselves, “How have I never heard of this before?”

The film opens in 1972 when abortion was still illegal. The camera focuses on women in a jail cell … women that seem quite out of place behind bars. We then flashback 4 years to a dorm room in Chicago, and female students are discussing the predicament of one of their friends. This leads to the development and early stages of the Jane Collective, a secret organization to assist women in obtaining counseling and abortion. This was a time when not only was abortion illegal, but doctors would often speak directly to a husband about medical options for their wife, leaving the women with little information and no power to make their own decisions. The film touches on just how desperate women were. Rat poison, self-punches to the gut, razor blades, knitting needles, and even jumping off roofs were all used as ‘solutions’ to a situation for which they were only half responsible.

Now depending on your views, you may find abortion unacceptable. This underground abortion network assisted 11,000 women between 1968 and 1973, when Roe vs. Wade legalized the procedure. This landmark legal decision put an end to the Janes, as well as the back alley con artists and dangerous methods women previously used. Co-writer Cait Cortelyou stars as Rose, a character based on the real life Heather Booth, a hero to many. Supporting roles are covered by Cody Horn, Chloe Levine, Sarah Steele, Ben Rappaport, Sophie von Hasleberg, Alison Wright, Danny Flaherty, and Michael Rabe (son of the late Oscar winning actress Jill Clayburgh). Judith Arcana, a real life Jane, has a cameo and was a consulting producer on the film.

With a budget of only $250,000 raised (fittingly) through grass roots donations, the film is not a slick Hollywood production; however, these are women from recent history who deserve to be recognized and remembered for their courage and commitment. Women were forced to look out for each other, and these women certainly stepped up. With the recent legal attention being brought back to the topic of abortion, this story is quite timely, despite having taken place 50 years ago. How sad.

watch the trailer: