By Sam Bennett
The Trial of the Chicago 7, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, is about the federal trial of not seven, as the name would suggest, but eight men following the Chicago riots of 1968 in protest of the ongoing conflict in Vietnam. The film boasts a star-studded cast of actors, with those at the forefront being played by Eddie Redmayne (Tom Hayden), Sacha Baron Cohen (Abbie Hoffman), Mark Rylance (William Kunstler), Frank Langella (Judge Julius Hoffman), and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Richard Schultz). Being a courtroom drama both written and directed by world famous screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, the film is chock full of classic Sorkin dialogue, extremely quick, smart, and witty, such as that displayed in possibly his most famous work, The Social Network. Yet to perform what Sorkin wrote, these great actors needed to be at their best. And they were. Redmayne was solid as ever as the logical and more grounded center of the film. Rylance played his role to near perfection. Langella crafts one of the most hateable characters I have ever seen in film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt allows the audience to see his clear struggle with his job versus doing what is right. And last but certainly not least, Sacha Baron Cohen delivers the performance of his career, as he shines through with the best performance in the film, and one of the best of any actor this year.
The Basic Story
As I stated in the opening, the film centers around the infamous Trial of the Chicago 7, as the United States government hoped to imprison the leaders of several anti-war groups (Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale). The groups that some of these men led were the Yippies, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE), and the Black Panthers. These men were tried for conspiracy to start riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in the Summer of 1968. What makes this trial interesting is that it is seen as one of the greatest failures of the American Justice system in American history and we get a front-row seat to the unraveling of this fiasco throughout the movie.
The Good and the Bad
Let me preface this by saying that I am a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin. I love the way he crafts his stories, as it always feels like there is something important going on, plus the snappy dialogue constantly keeps me engaged. Now, because of this, most of the things in this movie I thoroughly enjoyed. And this begins with the writing. The way the story is presented is nothing less than masterful. We see the context of what is going on at the time in the beginning of the movie, from the draft to the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Then we see the “present day” from both the perspective of the prosecutors and the defendants. We get to see flashbacks of the riots cut into the trial that keep the watcher engaged and allows for a better understanding of what is going on. I believe that if the narrative was displayed in any other way, the movie would not have worked as well and would not have been as successful in its goals of displaying the injustice and corruption in this trial. I briefly mentioned the performances before, but I would like to reiterate how great each and every one of the actors performed in this film. Not just the main four or five people, each defendant, every witness, etc was compelling. One of the best of these is an appearance of Michael Keaton later in the movie. Every scene he appeared in, he stole. There is not much bad about this film. The dialogue may seem a bit too witty, but much of it is taken directly from the transcripts of the trial itself. But if you don’t like Sorkin’s style of dialogue, it may get annoying. You also may not like the film if you don’t enjoy dramas in general.
Overall, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the most solid film I saw all year. Granted, I have yet to see a few that have been in the nominations. In spite of this, it will likely remain a personal favorite for me. Though in some cases it can be frustrating and sometimes enraging to see the injustice that the defendants went through, it is also truly inspirational how they continued to stay true to their cause even when they were at risk of going to prison for years on end. I would give this film a 9/10 and I think it should be strongly considered to win many of the main awards for the Oscars and Golden Globes.