Month: October 2020

The Trial of the Chicago 7

16/10/20

Netflix

Those people who despair about the current state of the judicial system in America should take a long, hard look at The Trial of the Chicago 7 – if only to remind themselves that it was just as rotten in the late 60s.

The titular trial is, of course, one of the most outrageous miscarriages of justice in relatively recent history, and here it is in all its shocking detail. Presented as fiction, this would inevitably raise eyebrows. The fact that it’s all true only intensifies the sense of shame the story generates. This is a damning narrative in the truest sense of the word.

It’s the story of a bunch of radicals who, in 1968, organised a peaceful protest against the Vietnam War. On the night of the protest, a large contingent of the protesters were cornered by the police and subjected to a brutal physical assault. Many of the officers removed their identification before striking out with their batons.

The upshot should surely have been that the Chicago police were the ones on trial, but no such luck. Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) and four of their friends find themselves up before Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella), a rampant hardliner who clearly deems them guilty on the length of their hair alone. Their crime? Hard to say, really. Obstructing police batons with their faces?

Just to complicate matters, Black Panther member Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is on trial alongside them, for no apparent reason other than he happened to be in Chicago on the same night. He has no legal representation in the court and, when he tries to speak for himself, he’s escorted outside, beaten, shackled and brought back in wearing a gag.

Think about that for a moment…

Writer/Director Aaron Sorkin has been working on this film for several years and it’s clearly a passion project. At first glance, some of the casting seems questionable but, as it turns out, Redmayne is perfectly convincing as Hayden, and Baron Cohen – hardly the go-to person for a credible acting performance – really captures the spirit of Abbie Hoffman, delivering what just might be his best film performance so far.

There are plenty of other sterling actors in smaller roles – Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Keaton to name but three – and the era is reproduced in almost forensic detail. It’s evident that Sorkin has designed this as a salutary lesson, a plea for the USA to ditch the kind of values exhibited here.

Some of that will be decided in the upcoming Presidential election but, in the meantime, here’s a chilling testament to the iniquities of the law and a stark warning of what happens when the judiciary isn’t held to proper account.

Hard-hitting stuff.

4.3 stars

Philip Caveney

Eternal Beauty

09/10/20

Curzon Home Cinema

Films that tackle the subject of mental illness are difficult to get right and the ones that do are few and far between. Eternal Beauty, written and directed by Craig Roberts, is more successful than most at capturing the confused and sometimes terrifying world of a schizophrenic.

It does seem odd, though, that a film set in South Wales and financed by the Welsh Film Board should feature such a paucity of Welsh actors in its cast. Robert Pugh, the only cast member with a noticeably Welsh accent, ironically spends the entire film in almost total silence.

Go figure.

Sally Hawkins is Jane, who, since being left at the altar by her fiancĂ© many years ago, has increasingly drifted into a chaotic world of delusion, much to the bewilderment of her family. (In flashbacks, she’s played by Morfydd Clark, who is great, although she looks nothing like Hawkins.) Jane dwells in a place where ‘reality’ is in very short supply and where the aforementioned fiancĂ© phones her at random times throughout the day and night, to whisper sweet nothings down the line.

Jane’s singularly unsympathetic mother, Vivian (Penelope Wilton) treats her condition with utter disdain, while her father, Dennis (Pugh), can’t even seem to voice an opinion. Jane’s two sisters, the likeable Alice (Alice Lowe) and the frankly unpleasant Nicola (Billie Piper), each deal with her condition in their own way.

Jane’s fragile existence receives a sudden boost when she reconnects with a friend from childhood. Mike (David Thewlis) styles himself as a musician – though the brief performance we’re treated to suggests that this may not be his true forte. However, his sparky presence revitalises Jane and it begins to look as though he may be just the man to lead her out of the dark labyrinth in which she’s become ensnared. But this is no fairy tale…

As ever, Hawkins submits a brilliantly nuanced performance in the lead role and she’s ably supported by a whole host of excellent performers. Kit Fraser’s cinematography cleverly uses colour palettes to define the different characters and there’s a suitably quirky soundtrack of vintage songs to supplement the action. Niggles aside, Eternal Beauty is well worth a watch, if only to marvel at Hawkins’ ability to take the most demanding roles in her stride – and to wonder how Roberts has somehow managed to make this bleak tale curiously life-affirming.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney