“The Trial of the Chicago 7” stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Eddie Redmayne, Noah Robbins, Mark Rylance, Alex Sharp, and Jeremy Strong. Released on Netflix on October 16, 2020, the film chronicles a group of defendants on trial.
The film is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, who also directed “Molly’s Game” and wrote screenplays for other films like “A Few Good Men”, “The American President”, “The Social Network”, and “Steve Jobs”. After making a successful directorial debut three years ago with “Molly’s Game", Sorkin returns to the director’s chair once again to helm another fact-based film that’ll put himself back into the Oscar race. This time, it is the Chicago Seven trial that took place after the Democratic Convention of 1968. Now, this is another part of history that I am 100% unfamiliar with. Then again, I’m not very good at remembering several parts of history. I guess that’s why we have movies based on history. So we can learn about them despite the fact that they changed certain elements to increase the drama. Even though my history knowledge is somewhat minimal, I do have a brief knowledge of Sorkin’s works and so far, he’s done an impressive job with writing some incredible scripts, especially for films like “The Social Network” and “Steve Jobs”, one of my favorite films of 2015. Based on his track record and the reviews it’s been getting since its limited theatrical release last month, it looks like this film could wind up being another strong contender in this year’s Oscar race. But is it something that I might enjoy? Let’s find out.
The film depicts the events surrounding the Chicago Seven, a group of people that consists of Abbie Hoffman (Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Strong), David Dellinger (Lynch), Tom Hayden (Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Sharp), John Froines (Flaherty), and Lee Weiner (Robbins). They, along with Black Panther Party member Bobby Seale (Abdul-Mateen II), have been charged by the U.S. federal government with conspiracy and intending to start up riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. They are sent to trial a year later, which would determine their fates. If you have read about the Chicago Seven trial before, then you would already know how everything will turn out in the end. If not, then consider this as a free history lesson. The majority of this dialogue-driven drama focuses on the trial as well as some occasional flashbacks that showcase how the main characters got to that point in the first place. I can get into these types of dramas as long as they’re able to keep my interest with their pacing, the story, and the talent onscreen and off. I managed to like the 2017 film “Marshall” because of those reasons. Luckily, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” was able to provide those same reasons. The only difference was that the latter did them better, resulting in a blockbuster-level piece of filmmaking gold that not only displays the incredible talent on screen and behind the camera, but also represents the sheer importance of this small historical event and how it is equivalent to where we are today. Makes it hard for me to believe that I wasn’t taught about this part of 1960s history. The entire cast was filled with plenty of recognizable actors, ranging from Sacha Baron Cohen to Michael Keaton, and they all delivered performances that were just as real and attention-grabbing as Sorkin’s intuitive storytelling. One of the main highlights of the cast was Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who gave out his best performance of his career as Bobby Seale, a chairman who speaks out against injustice in the courtroom. This is the type of performance that managed to be both provocative and convincing without overselling the actor's dramatic chops. A lot of people are quite familiar with Abdul-Mateen II from his role as Black Manta in “Aquaman”, myself included, and based on how he did in this film, I got a feeling that he’s going to get some more recognition sooner rather than later. I’m hoping that would be the case. Another highlight was Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman because of how he blends his comedic moments with the dramatic elements. At first, I was afraid that his humor might disrupt the flow of the film’s tone, but then I found myself surprised when I saw that it was well-executed. Cohen absolutely nailed the humorous parts without immediately falling into the “tasteless” category and his performance during the dramatic moments was quite amazing. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Mark Rylance also turned in some great performances as Richard Schultz and William Kunstler respectively. Aaron Sorkin has once again proven himself to be a gifted writer by showcasing an award-worthy screenplay that’s filled with superb dialogue, but he also proved that his skills behind the camera were as stellar as his writing. The best thing about his direction was his ability to make every dialogue-driven moment as riveting and well-paced as possible. With the assistance of some clean editing and Daniel Pemberton’s musical score, Sorkin was able to turn something that might wind up being an absolute bore into a heart-pounding and emotional roller-coaster that rightfully earns its importance and its two-hour-plus runtime.
Overall, with an all-star cast that’s as strong as its factual story, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is another cinematic voice that demands to be heard. This is a provocative, yet highly invigorating, experience that represents people’s struggles to make their voices heard during a time where those with power think that they have the right to do whatever they want. Thanks to its astounding cast, Sorkin’s direction, and a script that displays its political and legal themes in an honest and respectable light, this is one of the best films of 2020. It also deserves to be one of the most important films of all time, in my opinion. Sharing this type of history at a time like this can hopefully help us learn and prevent people of power from abusing it moving forward. If you have a Netflix account, this is one of the films from the streaming service that you should definitely check out. I would also highly recommend it to school teachers looking for additional resources for their lesson plans.