The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Review

Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin and Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman in The Trial of Chicago 7 – Courtesy of Netflix.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 adapts the famous 1969 trial of seven defendants who are accused by the Federal Government of conspiracy and crossing state lines with the intention of starting riots with the police. Now, when it comes to adapting the mess that is court trials into film, it really does require a level of finesse with screenwriting to keep the audience engaged. One could even argue that it would require a unique editing structure, snappy dialogue, and powerful performances to keep the audience glued to the screen. Well, that’s exactly what we get here.

With The Trial of the Chicago 7, Aaron Sorkin treats the audience like we’re the jury, attempting to provide what one could consider a more unbiased view of the events that led to and surrounded this trial. Sorkin is intentionally withholding certain details and events that these seven individuals were involved in until later on in the film — this combined with a more emotionally reduced writing direction means the story of this film primarily sticks to the cold facts while making it clear when emotion is involved. So, why all this talk about unbiased storytelling and why the hell is it so important? Well, we perhaps live in the most politically divisive year of this century and it is now more important than ever for films, television, and media in general to be as transparent about the facts as possible. Sorkin does a great job at ensuring we as the viewer aren’t being led down a path that distorts emotion from the facts of reality.

What we have here is a film that is dead-set on displaying the events of this famous trial through the use of clever dialogue, gripping drama, colorful performances, and punchy editing – Sorkin achieves all of these things and furthermore he even manages to keep the entire narrative collected and unbiased. The fact that this film was relatively unbiased made me question something; what exactly is Sorkin trying to say here? if not something political? If he’s constructed a film based around cold facts and a primarily unbiased storytelling structure, exactly what message is the film even trying to send? Well it occurred to me that even telling this story is the point. Sorkin wants this trial to be heard, to be remembered. But why? Why this trial? Well, simply put, this trial is a real life cautionary tale. It cautions the audience on how protests can warp into something they were never intended to be and how politics never really changes — a distortion of the facts and intentions can have leave devastating ramifications.

What may be just as remarkable as this film’s gripping writing is its stellar cast – with standout performances from Mark Rylance, Baron Cohen, and Redmayne. It is the combined effort of this cast of colorful personalities that sells us on how they may have all come together to believe the same views through different lenses. In many ways I was reminded of the varied personalities that exist within 12 Angry Men (1957).

Mark Rylance as William Kunstler and Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden in The Trial of Chicago 7 – Courtesy of Netflix.

Aaron Sorkin drafts a vague layout of 1960’s Chicago for us in a way that absorbs the audience into the intensity of those times. It is evident that Sorkin has become confident in executing his vision on a technical level. Being shot on location in Chicago adds an essence of authenticity of this film that allows the script to also thrive on a visual level. While the cinematography is nothing to gawk at, it does however, compliment the atmosphere of each sequence.

This film feels extremely timely, but Sorkin doesn’t ever let the film feel like an exploration of the current times we live in. The Trial of the Chicago 7 throws you in what feels like the world’s most interesting court case that you simply can’t keep your eyes off of – all through the use of Sorkin’s deeply clever dialogue. What’s clear is that Sorkin has now ascended from the minor difficulties he once had with directing and now feels like a creator who is in full command of his craft.

8.8/10

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