At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, riots erupted when thousands of anti-Vietnam War protestors clashed with police. Seeking to crush the energetic counterculture, the US government put on trial a group of eight defendants, some political organisers, some cultural radicals, some with hardly any influence, a pacifist, and a Black Panther, hoping to convict them for conspiracy to incite the riots. Aaron Sorkin’s writing is a good fit for this story, the disparate group of defendants arguing amongst themselves sharply, and many scenes flowing beautifully towards their own internal climaxes; the same cannot be said of his direction, the film lacking much visual flair and instinct for expressive imagery.
We revisit our common theme of British actors playing Americans, José finding more fault with it here than Mike does – we can, at least, agree that Sacha Baron Cohen’s accent is atrocious, his Abbie Hoffman a weak point. Mike expounds upon how much he hates himself for how much he likes Sorkin’s HBO drama The Newsroom, comfort food for the American left, which he sees echoes of here.
We find flaw upon flaw with The Trial of the Chicago 7, but despite every one of them, it’s an immensely watchable film with a terrific ensemble cast and entertaining dialogue. With an awareness of its limitations and economy with the truth, we recommend it.
The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.
Finished Twilight’s Last Gleaming, and observing how often in this period Burt played in looser narratives that basically amount to ensemble pieces, and this whilst still being perceived as a box-office powerhouse and not because he needed to (as might be the case with Cattle Annie and Little Britches, say). And by this I don’t mean all-star pony shows like Judgment at Nuremberg or even Airport, but films like The Scalphunters, The Hallellujah Trail, Ulzana’s Raid. He’s a central character but he’s not the whole show like he was in Elmer Gantry or even The Train. These are more expansive more inclusive narratives. The other observation is how often they are direct commentaries on then current US politics, The Vietnam War (this one, Ulzana’s Raid), racism (The Scalphunters, Valdez is Coming) incipient fascism at the highest levels of government (Seven Days in May, Executive Action). It is a point of view of cinema as the US’s national theatre, there to spark a discussion of current ideas, though in Burt’s case to increasingly diminishing audiences. The other observations, on the film itself: a) has there been any other film with this much split-screen? b) The film believes that merely telling the truth and having it circulated is enough to create social change. Does anyone believe that now?
Adam McKay brings the confrontational, fourth-wall-breaking style he employed in The Big Shortto a story of lust for power, hidden agendas, opportunism, and as near as makes no difference a coup d’état of the American government, engineered from inside the White House. Christian Bale plays Dick Cheney as he transforms from a brainless layabout into the de facto President of the United States, operating with scary, virtually boundless power to do whatever he wishes. It’s energetic, interesting, self-aware, and makes statements and accusations as bold as you’re likely to see in mainstream cinema. But it’s difficult to trust, says only what you’d like to hear, narrates where there are obvious opportunities to dramatise, and, fundamentally, fails to do what a biopic should: develop and convey an understanding of who its subject is and why. We weren’t impressed with much more than the makeup, unfortunately – though it is brilliant makeup.
We also have a browse through the Oscar nominations, why not.
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.