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The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Movie Review

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The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Netflix

Of all of the film genres, the courtroom drama might be the most talkative and dialogue heavy. So many of them attempt to create suspense by listening to lawyers and judges conversing. It’s probably not too surprising that Aaron Sorkin, a writer known for its quick witted dialogue, continues to return to the courtroom drama. The Trial of the Chicago 7, which Sorkin also directs, cleverly uses it to comment on the idea of rights in a political environment when everyone is on edge. The film does succeed in making us think about current events, while also taking us back to the late 1960s.

While the characters occasionally leave the courtroom and we get plenty of flashbacks, The Trial of the Chicago 7 spends a large amount of its screentime watching the lawyers and defendants make their cases. Sorkin keeps the material compelling and moving at a good pace, never lingering on a scene for too long. The historical context is presented so that people unfamiliar with the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots can easily understand what is at stack. The film has to juggle a lot of characters and they do succeed at standing out. Each member of the Chicago 7, in addition to Black Panther Bobby Seale, is properly defined and explored.

The lawyers are similarly allowed to become fully formed, as does Judge Julius Hoffman. All of the actors take advantage of being given Sorkin’s dialogue to chew on, resulting in multiple strong performances. Eddie Redmayne is probably the MVP of the bunch, portraying Tom Hayden’s passion and the simmering annoyance hiding underneath his mostly calm demeanor. Sacha Baron Cohen brings a sly prankish quality to Abbie Hoffman, which shows what a brilliant match this casting was. Mark Rylance and Frank Langella trade some great back-and-forths in the courtroom. Langella is especially good at portraying Julius Hoffman’s obvious contempt for the Chicago 8, but without turning him into a caricature.

Sorkin’s direction stays fairly standard through the runtime, but that’s also fitting for the story being told. What he and editor Alan Baumgarten succeed at doing is jumping between the flashbacks and the courtroom scenes. There’s a clever device of Abbie Hoffman doing a stand-out routine at a club to provide further context. We also get to see the different POVs of what might have happened at the protests and the authorities’ actions vs. the protestors’. The Trial of the Chicago 7 does attempt to comment on police brutality, which is especially topical right now, although it does delve into the subject too much.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is an intelligent courtroom drama with plenty of Aaron Sorkin’s expected flourishes. His impressive ability at writing dialogue continues to turn mundane settings into reviting drama and he has assembled a high-quality cast to say his words. Even for someone unfamiliar with the real historical events, the movie does a very good job of explaining who these people are and the context of their situation. At no point does it feel like listening to a Wikipedia article and the result ends up being two hours that fly by.

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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