The story of 7 people on trial stemming from various charges surrounding the uprising at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois.
Aaron Sorkin’s second film in the director’s chair is a barnstorming courtroom drama, full of his trademark tics and flourishes, about the trial of a group of protesters who were accused of crossing state lines to incite riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The film takes place primarily in the present as the ‘7’ are on trial (alongside Black Panther Bobby Seale, who is the 8th man on trial, despite being nowhere near the riots when they happened), with Sorkin utilizing a combination of flashbacks and some real life footage to bring to life the events that are being discussed in the courtroom. Sorkin is no stranger to a courtroom drama, having penned arguably the finest film of its type in ‘A Few Good Men’, nor is he a stranger to sharp, insightful and witty dialogue, as basically his full resume has demonstrated, and he’s a perfect match for this material, and I thought this was a superb film.
It would be hard to talk about this film without mentioning the cast, which is as stellar an ensemble as I’ve seen in one film in a long time. You’ve got Oscar winners Mark Rylance and Eddie Redmayne, nominees Michael Keaton and Frank Langella, to Emmy and Golden Globe winners and nominees such as Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeremy Strong and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. It is a truly excellent cast and they’re all perfectly suited to the roles that they play. I’m not familiar with the case, nor will I try to explain it in detail, however it centres on 7 men (8 if you include Seale) who were all members or leaders of various left wing organisations, who had gathered in Chicago to protest against the Vietnam War in front of the Democratic National Convention where Hubert Humphrey was due to be nominated as the parties presidential candidate. A series of events led to protesters and police fighting each other – one group of which had batons, riot gear and tear gas, the other group who didn’t. The trial was to bring the supposed perpetrators to justice and to get to the bottom of whether the riots were started by police or the protesters, although as we’ll find out, the legal system is not as impartial as it would like to portray itself to be.
I thought this was a gripping and engrossing movie about an interesting subject, which was used by Sorkin as a jumping off point to explore the politics of the time (including the different factions even within the ‘Chicago 7’) and to lay bare the foibles of a political system that was ruled with an iron fist – I’ve no doubt Sorkin intends parallels to be drawn with his country today. In terms of individual performances, Baron Cohen is inspired casting as Abbie Hoffman and his comedic nature brings a much needed levity to proceedings, whilst this is as good as I’ve seen Eddie Redmayne, who for the first time in a while feels like he’s playing a real, grounded character and isn’t acting up.
‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ is terrific entertainment, a good old fashioned star studded drama that explores interesting themes with intelligence and nuance, and in Aaron Sorkin, we have a director whose skills behind the camera are fast catching up with his undoubted talent in the writer’s room. It’ll be available to watch on Netflix from Friday.
Directed By: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Frank Langella, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Alex Sharp, Noah Robbins, Daniel Flaherty, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ben Shenkman, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Alice Kremelberg, John Doman, J. C. Mackenzie, Damian Young and Michael Keaton