The Trial of the Chicago 7 is Aaron Sorkin’s second foray into directing, a dramatisation of the true story of 7 people on trial following the events at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois.
The film centres around what is effectively a sham of a trial, and aside from a few flashbacks and prep scenes, it is virtually set entirely in the courtroom for the 2+ hour duration. There aren’t many films that can pull this off and aside from a slight lull in the middle, The Trial of the Chicago 7 manages this impressively well and this is mainly down to Aaron Sorkin himself and his rather stellar cast. It also helps that the story itself is a fascinating one. I knew nothing about the trial, the people or even the protests in Chicago, so watching this was a rather disturbing eye opener. It’s a truly compelling and interesting story which has a great deal of relevance to today’s politics – Netflix Ken what they were doing releasing this close to election time!
I’m a long time fan of Sorkin’s writing and alongside his directing, it definitely does not disappoint here. His usual sharp and quick witted dialogue is ever present and is delivered flawless by the marvellous cast. Sorkin even manages to throw in a few laughs which considering the rather serious aspects of the story is no mean feat, and these are often delivered from the ‘bromance’ between Sacha Baron Cohen’s Abbie Hoffman and Jeremy Strong’s Jerry Rubin. However every single member of this ensemble cast shines individually. From Mark Rylance’s exasperated lawyer William Kunstler to Frank Langella’s rather evil and incompetent judge, from Joseph Gordon Levitt’s prosecutor with a conscience to Eddie Redmayne’s intellectual Hayden. Even Michael Keaton who has a blink and you’ll miss it role as a former Attorney General is brilliant. I couldn’t pinpoint a single person in this case who excels above another as they are all fantastic.
I don’t believe this film is perfect. There is a slight lull in the middle due to the mostly courtroom setting, even with the cracking dialogue, and whilst I did enjoy Sorkin’s directing style, I did wonder if this film looked a little too slick and polished overall. The story is dark, gritty and rather disturbing when you think of the political and racial undertones and motivations, and the film itself doesn’t always reflect this – the ending especially is very moving, but feels a little too happy and Hollywood. I’d also question why not all of the major characters were included in the intertitles detailing what happened to the individuals after the events of this film. Considering it was such a balanced cast, it seemed odd not to include all the main characters especially for those who don’t know the real life history.
Overall this is a fantastic dialogue and performance driven film. Sorkin is without a doubt a master of the legal and political drama, and if you’re a fan of his earlier work then this is definitely one worth watching. Whilst “enjoyable” may not be the most appropriate word considering the subject matter, this is a hugely interesting and entertaining watch.