Why 1968 Was the Year the War Came Home

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"The Trial of the Chicago 7" (Netflix)

The trailer for the new Netflix movie "The Trial of the Chicago 7" is here to remind us that 2020 is nothing like 1968. The civil unrest back then, fueled by protests against the Vietnam War, created a sense of chaos and insecurity that makes the recent protests seem like a minor playground spat.

Writer/director Aaron Sorkin (Emmy winner for "The West Wing," Oscar winner for "The Social Network") has taken on the story of seven men charged with crossing state lines to incite violence at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. That was a new law passed as part of the 1968 Civil Rights Act that was specifically aimed at suppressing protest against the Vietnam War.

Netflix has released its first trailer for the movie, set to debut in a limited theatrical release in September (check your local listings) before streaming on Oct. 16.

Sorkin loves trials ("A Few Good Men" and his recent play based on Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird") and the process of how government and business work ("The West Wing," HBO's "The Newsroom," "Moneyball," "The American President"), so a movie about how LBJ's government tried to handle protest seems right up his alley. There's a lot of arguing, and no one likes to write argument dialogue more than Sorkin.

The movie stars Sacha Baron Cohen ("Borat," "Talladega Nights") as Abbie Hoffman; Jeremy Strong ("Succession") as Jerry Rubin; Eddie Redmayne ("The Theory of Everything") as Tom Hayden; Alex Sharp ("The Hustle") as Rennie Davis; John Carroll Lynch ("Fargo," "Zodiac") as David Dellinger; Danny Flaherty ("The Americans") as John Froines; and Noah Robbins ("Unbreakable Kimmy Schimdt") as Lee Weiner as the notorious seven.

Yahya Abdul-Matteen II ("Aquaman," "Watchmen") plays Bobby Seale, the Black Panther Party founder who was originally charged as part of the conspiracy but whose trial was severed from the seven defendants listed above. Mark Rylance ("Bridge of Spies") plays defense attorney William Kunstler, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("Inception," "Snowden") plays prosecutor Richard Schultz.

Anyone who was around for the chaos of 1969 or who followed the trial in 1969 will recognize a lot of those names and likely have strong opinions about at least a few of them. The law under which they were charged was passed in the hectic days immediately after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. but before the assassination of presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy. The trial took place in the early days of President Richard Nixon's administration at a moment when Americans still thought their new leader was committed to ending the war as soon as possible

The seven defendants had little connection with one another. The government's conspiracy charges were based on the theory that all of them had used anti-war and anti-Democratic Party words that inspired the violence.

There's a legitimate debate about whether Chicago Mayor William Dailey's orders to the city's police force inflamed the situation and helped create the violence, but few Americans saw the trial through that prism in 1969.

Most of the defendants would have preferred not to be on trial with Hoffman and Rubin, who used the proceedings as a kind of political theater that created havoc in the courtroom for no reason other than to undermine the seriousness of the trial. Neither ever seemed to have much of a plan of what they wanted to accomplish with their protest, and the movie is certain to feature their courtroom shenanigans.

If you're thinking our national disagreements are worse than ever, "The Trial of the Chicago 7" might offer a reminder of just how bad things were at the height of the Vietnam War. Whose side will Sorkin take? We'll have to wait until October to find out.

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