When adapting historical events, Aaron Sorkin is known, not for his accuracy but for his distinct style of writing that he uses to mold the world around him. That remains true for The Trial of The Chicago 7. Sorkin’s approach lends itself well to the tense legal battles within the courtroom but at points can undermine the stakes of the scene and of the film as a whole.
During the 1968 Democratic National Convention, massive demonstrations were held against the Vietnam War from prominent progressive organizations. The demonstrations took a violent turn when they were confronted by thousands of police officers. It eventually led to full-scale riots that left 11 people dead, 48 wounded, 90 policemen injured, and 2,150 people arrested. Instead of showing us these riots, Sorkin skips ahead to 1969 where Nixon is president and John Mitchell the attorney general. Looking back on the riots, Mitchell decides he wants to press charges against what he calls the “schoolboys” or the 8 leaders of the Chicago riots. Indeed it’s the Chicago 8. Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, and Bobby Seale were all charged with conspiracy to incite violence across state lines. Eventually, Seale’s indictment is separated from the rest which is how the name becomes the Chicago 7.
The film makes clear that many of them did conspire but it wasn’t to incite violence, it was to perform a massive demonstration with the exception of Bobby Seale. Bobby Seale not only has no association with any of the other leaders, but he was also only in Chicago for only 4 hours during the convention. This among many other details assures us that this trial is politically motivated. Mitchell brings in Thomas Foran and Richard Schultz as prosecutors against the Chicago 8 which leads us to where we spend the bulk of the film, the trial.