The Trial of the Chicago 7 stars Denzel Washington as a prosecutor trying to prosecute the seven accused white radicals, all members of the Black Panther Party, for participating in an unsuccessful attempt to sabotage a presidential inauguration. This film, like its predecessor, The Great Society, is a very thoughtful examination of how we view ourselves and the world around us.
The movie is loosely based on the famous 1969 federal trial of seven prominent activists, including Martin Luther King, Earl Hampton, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, Bobby Seale, and Huey Newton. The trial sparked a nationwide discussion about violence intended to undermine the United States government and transfixed the country.
Washington's character, Tony LaVita, is a former FBI agent who goes against his training by going against the wishes of his superiors to pursue this case as a private citizen, in this case because of personal reasons. He's determined to fight for civil rights for minorities within the country, and he also thinks that this case is important enough to bring it to the attention of the American public.
Played by the incomparable Richard Castelluccio, Mark Bates, is the most sympathetic character in this film. He was actually a witness to the assassination attempt of President Nixon, where he witnessed the killing of an attorney during a protest in front of the White House. Bates became a lifelong advocate for peace and justice.
Johnny Wally is the defense lawyer representing the men accused of conspiracy. He's an intelligent, intellectual person, and while he may seem a bit off-putting at first, he does have a great sense of humor. It helps that he's played by Denzel Washington's good friend in real life, James Earl Jones. Wally is a good advocate for his clients, and he also has a very good case against the government's accusations.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is definitely not for everybody, and many critics felt that Denzel Washington overacted during his part. However, he was able to convey the complexities of the case and the complexities that people have on a day-to-day basis.
Mark Bates, in particular, shines throughout the entire film. He's the one who gets to deliver his most powerful arguments against the government, and he's also the one who finally realize his dream of seeing justice done, which involves speaking out against the government's actions. And it turns out that he'll be standing in front of the same white picket fence that his hero once stood on...in court, in this case.
As a character, however, Johnny Wally was played by Johnson. He's a bit more sympathetic, but only slightly. The thing about Johnson is that he's a good person who doesn't necessarily seem like a great actor. But he was one, and did play an important role in the trials of the era.
Johnny Wally is an interesting look at how Americans react to government violence and corruption in the face of civil rights and equality. If you like your action movies to be realistic, then you might want to consider watching The Trial of the Chicago 7.