This movie is a tour de force and stands with the great courtroom dramas of cinema history. It’s the career masterpiece of renowned screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and will almost certainly win the Best Picture Oscar at next year’s Academy Awards. While we are currently awash with ‘On The Basis of Sex’-style unabashed liberal propaganda pieces, this is something more. Like that movie it is well made with a large budget and some great performances, but this production is all round bigger and better and it screams quality. The 1968 court case in question was a touchstone of modern American history and gets a luxurious treatment here.
Sascha Baron-Cohen (channeling a young Elliot Gould) dominates as the wise-cracking Abbie Hoffman, one of the 7 on trial for inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, a convention that had denied the rioters their first choice of Presidential nominee Bobby Kennedy by the assassin’s bullet and in a mockery of democracy now replaced him with the establishment candidate Hubert Humphrey. Frank Langella is brilliant as the villain of the piece, reactionary Judge Hoffman (no relation!) The fast pace, epic production design, razor-sharp editing and of course the dialogue – Sorkin’s speciality – are superb, and elevate this effort to instant classic status.
There is some attempt to draw a moral equivalence here between the anti-draft protests of the sixties and the recent ‘Summer of hate’ BLM protests. But it is a specious comparison: protesting the concept of any kind of police and law at all is not the same as protesting being sent around the world to kill or be killed. If anything this movie serves to remind us of the greater character, nobility and purpose of a previous generation’s youth. Although the stated aims of the protesters back then were ostensibly the same: the intentionally vague ‘revolution’, with its irresponsible, naive and/or willful ignorance of history’s witness that such revolutions always result in genocide and the worst kind of tyranny, at least those protesters were attempting to stop an unjust war and prevent American imperialism from oppressing foreign nations. Today’s rioters and looters are not interested in the ongoing oppression of foreign nations, only their own comparatively very comfortable condition that does not in any way require them to go overseas to fight and die, and they have no programme of solution other than destruction and vandalism. The Coronavirus lockdown would be a worthy cause to protest against, but that rarely even gets a mention!