One of the most anticipated films of this upcoming awards season, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the new film written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. Following the trial of eight men with varying backgrounds who organise protests at the Democratic National Convention to end the Vietnam War. Featuring an all-star cast including Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance and Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a major event of a film showing that issues that occurred in the 1960s are just as relevant today during a tumultuous year. Considering Sorkin’s previous filmography, it is no surprise that he would be at the helm of a film that showcases the miscarriages of justice and he is the perfect person to do so. Netflix are going to be pushing this film hard for awards season and it’s easy to see why as the cast and crew on paper is enough to entice an audience alone.
As expected, Sorkin’s screenplay is intense and atmospheric, perfectly creating the societal chaos from the first few minutes. The set-up is also unexpected as we are introduced to the characters and then goes straight to the court case, skipping the actual demonstration initially. The first demonstration is interwoven bit by bit during the trial as the facts and fiction are spouted in court. The demonstration and riot itself is brilliantly directed providing a midpoint climax that makes use of the tension built up in the first half of the film. Sorkin’s use of real footage of the riot coinciding with the film’s scenes showcases the discomfort and conflict. There is also an unflinching fearlessness in Sorkin’s approach to the riot. The second half then explores the second riot which sees the main group, sans Bobby, trapped and beaten by members of the police who removed their name badges so they could not be identified.
The performances are all reliable as to be expected from a cast of this calibre. Although the cast are all being pushed for Supporting awards this awards season, I would argue that Sacha Baron Cohen and Eddie Redmayne could be considered the leads given their screen time and characterisation. Both do a superb job in roles that I haven’t seen from either before. I was particularly impressed by Sacha Baron Cohen who has been having a stellar year. Playing hippie activist, Abbie Hoffman, Baron Cohen is able to channel his usual humour and wit while equally showcasing a more dramatic range that is really impressive. Redmayne on the other hand pulls off a great American accent as up and coming activist, Tom Hayden, who is President of the Student for a Democratic Society. His final scene in which he reads the names of the fallen soldiers since the trial began is
In the more traditional supporting roles we see the other members of the eight as well as the lawyers of both the defense and prosecution. In this category, one major standout for me was Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Panther Chairman, Bobby Seale. Seale is constantly ignored and belittled by the court resulting in a scene where he is literally gagged and chained to his seat in an extremely upsetting scene. Abdul-Mateen’s performance is small but hugely significant and he commands every scene he is in. It would also be a catastrophe if I didn’t mention the fantastic turn by Mark Rylance as Defense Counsel, William Kunstler. Rylance can always be counted on to bring flawless performances but he truly excels in this. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his name on the nominee lists come awards season.
Naturally, I had high expectations for The Trial of the Chicago 7 and they were met with ease. Sorkin brings out his strongest writing since The Social Network and does a brilliant job with the direction as well. The fact that he is able to give a good amount of characterisation to the eight men that makes them distinct and identifiable is a true testament to his skill as a writer. I think Sorkin’s passion and intricate research into the case really comes to light and he manages to condense a lot of information into a 130 minute film in a way that is engaging and not overwhelming at the same time
What did you think of The Trial of the Chicago 7? Let me know in the comments below!