The chicago 7 were seven defendants – Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), John Froines (Daniel Flaherty), and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) – charged by United States federal government with conspiracy, crossing state lines and intent to incite a riot due to their stance on anti-Vietnam war during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois. Originally known as The Chicago Eight, the trial also feature Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), an african-american who only appear briefly in the convention, never met with the other seven and was charged of conspiracy to murder a suspected police informant which supposed to be represented by another lawyer, Charles Garry. However, Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) insisted to William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) and Leonard Weinglass (Ben Shenkman), the attorney of 7’s, to represent Seale too in which they also repeatedly rejected. Judge Hoffman saw this as a contempt of the court; rage and intensity are all spread across the courtroom and the above is just one of the cases, which Kunstler did state in the real proceeding, “a medieval torture chamber.” Whether you agree to the statement or not in the context of the real trial, Director-Writer Aaron Sorkin does capture the spirit of its statement, delivering a burst of emotion through his stylistic writing and fast-pace direction that had truly matured compared to his first writing credit (and coincidentally courtroom drama) ‘A Few Good Men’ (1992) and ‘Molly’s Game’ (2017).
For moviegoers, or in this case readers who do not know who Aaron Sorkin is, he’s one of the most prestigious and important figures in the screenwriting industry, or the very least Hollywood industry that had written highly critical acclaim films such as David Fincher’s ‘The Social Network’ (2010), Bennett Miller’s ‘Moneyball’ (2011), and Danny Boyle’s ‘Steve Jobs’ (2015). If you’ve watched at least 2 of these 3 films, you’ll realize that his script is filled with lots of dialogue but offers fast, tight ones that flesh out all of the characters and personality. In ‘The Trial of Chicago 7’, the characters are numerous, having a diverse background that need to be compressed into the 130 minutes running time. But its rapid-fire dialogue, while being crucial to establish the character, also helps to cover the flaws of underdeveloped character. The witty style of dialogue creates lots of memorable moments that can’t help to be laughed at. Seriously, I chuckled my ass off when Weiner drew a parallel of the court similar to the Academy Awards, or Hoffman standing where he savagely replied to prosecutor William Kunstler (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) that simultaneously criticized America. This aspect helps to cover the tolerable flaws considering the film scale that needs to be compressed into its 130 minutes running time. Yet even his most underdeveloped character almost reaches the 3-dimensional character state, and that’s telling something.
Already establishing himself as a competent director in his debut ‘Molly’s Game’, Sorkin shows no stepping back in here. It offers a faster pace in a larger universe than his precedent film. I have to admit that I got lost sometimes due to its vast characters and unfamiliarity of American history. However, it doesn’t take away its entertainment value, where a single second isn’t wasted here that features a phenomenal cast ensemble performance that is able to balance (at least on its main character) each other. Even so, Sacha Baron Cohen manages to steal every scene he’s in. There are no scene-stealer moments that only feature him but he had a charisma to make every scene of his memorable even if never exceed the amount of dialogue and emotion Mark Rylance has (for the record he’s the attorney, so he will do lots of talking compared to the others).
The visuals that Sorkin provided also deserve praise. ‘The Trial of Chicago 7’ isn’t a film that is set in one location just as ‘A Few Good Men’ is (make sense since ‘A Few Good Men’ originated from a stage play that is written by Sorkin himself). The film also features flashbacks of the Chicago 7 demonstration that becomes a non-linear feature, giving a brief understanding of what really happened at the demonstration up until the trial. Its visuals, although not groundbreaking, are heartbreaking. It’s quite violence at some point, depicting the realism of brutality in demonstration. What’s more harrowing is how the editor Alam Baumgarten inserts flashes of black-and-white videos and images of the real events. It is a reminder that this event is not fictionalized. It’s a true event that ever did happen in the history of America.
Obviously, I do not believe what Sorkin depicted is 100% accurate. Certainly there are events that are exaggerated as the purpose to heightened the tension and entertainment of the film. Even so, I do love the fact of how the film draws parallel to the 1960s. Police brutality is still an issue in the USA, evident in the George Floyd protest and this scene recreates a softer, but based on true event of how they constrain Bobby Seale. It’s hard to watch really. How Sorkin also incorporates criticism of American education, prejudice in the legal system, the suppression in freedom of speech are addressed either through Sorkinism one-liner or visual metaphor in the film. The list still goes on, and it’s relatability is what makes the film so sympathetic to us audiences. Especially the ending, which I need to remind that it’s a fictional portrayal, but a hopeful one for us as the credit rolls.
‘The Trial of The Chicago 7’ is another triumph for Aaron Sorkin as he didn’t show any sign of stopping through his quick, witty dialogue and effective visuals. There are moments that would make the audience lose, but there are no moments of bore that made it a pressure to rewatch the film a second time. Recommended.