Aaron Sorkin’s second directorial effort, The Trial of the Chicago 7, is based on the infamous 1969 trial of seven defendants charged by the federal government with conspiracy and more, arising from the countercultural protests in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The trial transfixed the nation and sparked a conversation about mayhem intended to undermine the U.S. government.
Let’s be real – we are in an insane and scary time right now. Really, for the past few months. For many people, at the end of 2019, they were excited to transition into not only a brand new year but a brand new decade full of hope and promise. But, unless you have been living under a rock since about March, ever since then, the year has gone absolutely crazy seemingly within the snap of a finger.
Not only is the coronavirus pandemic still a thing and still as deadly as ever, but there have been many riots and protests breaking out all around the world due to police brutality, systemic racism, and other important matters. Everybody deserves to have their voice heard, and that’s what Sorkin’s latest film does so excellently. Not only is it an enthralling court drama but it feels scarily similar to what is going on in the world today, despite the fact that this movie is set in the 1960s and is based on a true story.
It honestly felt so nice to watch a brand new Sorkin movie. He is typically known for his script work for films such as The Social Network, Moneyball, and Steve Jobs, all of which have absolutely terrific writing on display. In 2017, Sorkin wrote and directed the crime-thriller Molly’s Game, making it his first-ever directorial effort. It’s hard to say which I prefer more – Molly’s Game or The Trial of the Chicago 7.
Making a two hour and ten-minute movie about one specific situation and almost entirely in a courtroom would be a daunting task for any filmmaker, but somehow, Sorkin makes it look so easy. The writing on display here is some of his best to date, with there not being a dull scene anywhere in sight. Just when a scene feels like it could be going on a bit too long, Sorkin adds a new ingredient to his formula to shake things up and it always feels exciting and intense.
One of the things that impressed me the most here was the characters. By the time the movie was over, I felt like I had a well-rounded view of all seven of our lead protagonists. They all get equal amounts of screen-time, and each character’s storyline interweaves with other character’s storylines masterfully.
Not to mention the fact that all of the actors that portray these characters deliver some of their best performances to date, but namely Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden. I am a massive fan of Redmayne’s work, having seen his excellent performance in The Theory of Everything and the Fantastic Beasts series to name a few, but I think that this performance may be the best of his career.
He delivers a performance so raw and so intense that I genuinely had a hard time believing that it was Redmayne that was doing the work. I never once saw him in the role, but rather Tom Hayden. Another great standout here was Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman. Cohen is primarily known for his comedic roles in films such as Borat, The Dictator, and Bruno, but with The Trial of the Chicago 7, he more than proves that he can be a legitimately great dramatic actor if given the right material.
To be honest, there wasn’t a single bad performance anywhere throughout this movie. Mark Rylance does an excellent job as William Kunstler as does Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Richard Schultz. This year is truly the comeback year for Gordon-Levitt. He used to be in tons of films back in the early 2010s, but for whatever reason, it seemed as though he had a little bit of a falling out of acting for a while. But with Project Power and now this, it seems that Gordon-Levitt may finally be ready to re-enter the acting industry. If so, I won’t be complaining.
If there is something to complain about here though, it would perhaps be the first act. It can be a little bit confusing as to where it will eventually go, but once you see where things are heading, sit back, relax, and enjoy what is currently one of the best movies of the year.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a captivating and riveting historical legal drama with astounding lead performances, a whip-smart script, and themes that are as timely as ever.
Overall Grade: A
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some violence, bloody images, and drug use
Cast: 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, Jeremy Strong
Directed by: Aaron Sorkin
Distributed by: Netflix
Release Date: October 16, 2020
Running Time: 130 minutes