Review by Sean Boelman
The newest film from master screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and his second time in the director’s chair, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is arguably the filmmaker’s most restrained work yet. Still packed with plenty of his signature quick dialogue but with more intricate character work than expected, it is as good as one would expect.
The movie tells the story of a group of men who are tried for charges related to a protest-turned-uprising at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Sorkin takes the structure of a fairly standard courtroom drama and makes it his own into something more riveting and emotional.
Most of the story is told through the frame of the court case, with flashbacks during the testimony serving to provide the necessary context for the story. After an absolutely killer introduction that uses archive footage and character introductions to establish the stakes, Sorkin throws the audience right into the trial to exciting effect.
Admittedly, the film does fumble some of its weightier themes. The portion of the movie exploring racial injustice is interesting, but is solved by the midway point. And given the context of recent events, complaining about the shortcomings of the justice system for seven white characters, while still affecting, feels like too little too late.
That said, the film does a very good job of developing most of its nine main characters. Unfortunately, the most compelling aspect of the story, involving Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panthers, is the most underdeveloped. But when it comes down to the actual Chicago 7 and their lawyer, the movie is very well-done.
The single biggest thing working in this film’s favor, though, is its tremendous ensemble. All of the performances in this are amazing. Recent Emmy winner Jeremy Strong is arguably the biggest standout, giving the most nuanced performance of the bunch. Eddie Redmayne is a close second, having the most powerful scene in the movie. And Sacha Baron Cohen, John Carroll Lynch, and Mark Rylance are all excellent as well.
As was the case with his debut, Sorkin shows here that he isn’t quite as strong of a director as he is a screenwriter, but he brings a lot of energy to the table regardless. But there are some decisions made that were somewhat distracting. The wig worn by Mark Rylance, for example, is terrible. There are some scenes that cut too early before the emotion of the performance can really set in. And Daniel Pemberton’s score often feels a bit heavy-handed.
Despite a few small issues, Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a brilliant thriller with one of the year’s best ensembles. It’s both a movie of the moment and a great historical work, offering the best in both social commentary and crowd-pleasingness.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 streams on Netflix beginning October 16.