Screenplays are the backbone for any film and without a sound script, a movie has no ability to fly. Aaron Sorkin is one of the best in the business for making scripts that are relentlessly entertaining. And with The Trial of the Chicago 7, Sorkin manages to once again give something special.
With his latest screenplay (which he also directed), Sorkin leans into his courtroom skills, giving us a political-legal drama. But does the film rise up to the heights of such classics like A Few Good Men?
Here is our The Trial of the Chicago 7 review and whether it’s another home run by Netflix.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 review
The film centers on eight people (before dropping to seven) who are charged by the newly appointed Attorney General for various crimes involving a riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention.
And these eight men were Bobby Seale, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner.
Each one of these real-life figures is given the best possible performer to bring the essence of who they were to life. Such names as Eddie Redmayne, Jeremy Strong, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and so many more make the experience real.
Literally everyone in this movie is a powerhouse actor. From Joseph Gordon-Levitt to a brief appearance by Michael Keaton. It’s the type of cast that a filmmaker can only dream of.
But the story is resurrected to show that the issues these men faced are as timely as ever. As the old saying goes, “History has a funny way of repeating itself.”
These men wanted social and political change much like so many want change now. The Chicago 7 wanted to end the horrible nightmare that was Vietnam and sadly their efforts to protest the war ended in violence when rallying in Chicago. And much like present-day circumstances such as Black Lives Matter, the lines can be blurry on who instigates these riots: The police or the protestors? And most of the time the blurriness is caused by political forces.
But the real villain of this movie is the politicization of judges and the courts. And this is brilliantly demonstrated within the writing as well as the vicious performance by the legendary Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman. Where most courtroom dramas involve the plaintiff battling the prosecutors, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is about surviving judges with extreme partisan and prejudicial views. And it’s absolutely troubling because this can happen to anyone.
If an Oscars does happen in the foreseeable future, Langella should be in the consideration of Best Supporting Actor. His performance ranks up there alongside memorable scum such as Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched or Marcia Gay Harden’s character of Ms. Carmody in The Mist. The only difference is Julius Hoffman was a real lawyer and judge.
The other potential Oscar contender from this film has to be Sacha Baron Cohen as social activist Abbie Hoffman. This is the film that should convince naysayers that Cohen can leave behind comedy and go full Marlon Brando if he decides to do so. And based on this movie, if he were to make that choice, it would be welcomed.
Cohen and Eddie Redmayne’s character Tom Hayden have some of the best exchanges in the film, showing how the progressive discourse is not much different from today. Hayden represents one side of the Democratic Party that is more centrist in nature and wants to win elections.
Hoffman takes more of the Bernie Sanders approach wanting change to move more swiftly – and cares little about the political ramifications to reach said goal. And both of these men show that the party is not as divided as it seems and both want the same things, despite the methodology of getting there.
That said, the film is not without its flaws. Aaron Sorkin is a master at dialogue and building enthralling courtroom procedurals. But sometimes he can exaggerate a scene to the point that it can pull one out of the experience. He was guilty of this in various portions of HBO’s The Newsroom and he’s guilty of it twice here.
For example, in the 1992 film The Player starring Tim Robbins, a group of producers is shown watching an upcoming release with Julia Roberts being on death row and about to be executed. And one of the people in the screening says something about it being an Oscar film as Julia’s character begins to die.
Then, Bruce Willis flies into the prison, breaks her out, and carries her away, giving the film a crowd-pleaser moment instead of aiming for direct reality.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 does not go that far to achieve the crowd-pleasing sensation, but there are a few moments where a viewer might say, “that’s not real life.” However, this only happens twice and does not make the film any less entertaining or important.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a timely film that serves as a refresher on how political our legal systems can be in the face of change. It’s jam-packed with an all-star dream cast and exceptional performances all around, especially from Frank Langella and Sacha Baron Cohen.
While some moments may feel Hollywoodized to a fault, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is compelling in its recount of a politicized court case. And it’s one of the best films to bless viewers in such a turbulent year.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is now streaming on Netflix.