Quick question for the peanut gallery here. Does that last courtroom scene in The Trial Of The Chicago 7 work for everyone else? I obviously have my own thoughts about what went down, but one of the great things about seeing a movie in a theater is you can tell what the consensus reaction of the room is. Since I watched it with one other person on Netflix who agreed with me, however, I really have no idea whatsoever how other people felt. So, let’s talk it out.
Spoilers: I can’t believe I have to say this on account of it being so freaking obvious from the title, but if you haven’t seen The Trial Of The Chicago 7 yet and you don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading this article. Go watch the movie and then come back. Don’t read the article and then yell about how I ruined it in the comment section. That wouldn’t make any sense.
Alright, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the sentencing scene in The Trial Of The Chicago 7. Basically, after months of real time trial and two hours or so of runtime for viewers, five of our title seven (not including Bobby Seale since he wasn’t a defendant at that point) are convicted and ready for sentencing. The truly outrageous Judge Julius Hoffman (who was apparently like that in real life) tells Tom Hayden he can offer a brief statement in the defense of all five. Instead, in a moment that sort of happened in real life but much earlier in the trial, he has the names of deceased Vietnam War soldiers read into the record.
The judge apparently stopped the display after only a few names were read in the real trial when it happened prior to the sentencing phase. He tries to do the same in the movie, but Hayden keeps talking while everyone stands up and cheers. The other defendants get excited. Jerry Rubin raises his fist. Eventually others join him. The audience in the courtroom stands up and applauds. The buttoned up squares angrily storm out. David Dellinger's kid climbs on his chair. Even the US Attorney Richard Schultz (the lead prosecutor), who is portrayed as a somewhat sympathetic figure, rises to honor the fallen soldiers in a moment that is clearly meant to be the film's emotional crescendo.
Now, on the whole, I really enjoyed The Trial Of The Chicago 7. I would strongly recommend it to most people with an interest in adult dramas, politics, history or just great acting. I thought it was well-written, had some truly spectacular scenes, particularly the argument between Sacha Baron Cohen’s Abbie Hoffman and Eddie Redmayne’s Tom Hayden about what winning means in liberal politics, and was a great introduction into the fascinating world of the late 1960s. But I also thought the last scene was a bit beneath the movie.
I'll actually go a step further. I think the last scene in the movie is bad. It feels forced. The music is sentimental and obvious. It's overly tidy for its subject matter that's much more nuanced and complicated. It has only a passing connection to the facts of what really happened. It feels like something from a lesser movie. I get the bind screenwriter Aaron Sorkin was in. The movie is about the original trial. The original trial ended in defeat for 5 of the 7 defendants. You want a moment for the audience to be able to celebrate with these characters we've been watching, but there had to be a way to do it that didn't feel so contrived. Sorkin is a master at writing. I realize the subject matter did him no favors here, but if a movie is gonna get hit with 5 star reviews and have over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, it's fair to offer some criticism of what should be its most important moment.
Maybe I’m just being cynical though. Most of the rest of the movie is excellent, and maybe it really deserved that last moment of victory, even if it came amidst a larger defeat. It’s not as if other movies haven’t done some version of the same thing. In fact, there are entire YouTube montages dedicated to movie slow claps. I'll defend it in Cool Runnings for example. What do you think? Does all the clapping in the final scene work for you? Let us know by voting in the poll below…