The courtroom drama genre seems tricky, but there are a select few who absolutely nail it. Aaron Sorkin is unequivocally built for the genre, with his usual breakneck dialogue and visceral style of writing; and his latest film is no exception. Following his directorial debut, Molly’s Game, Sorkin is back to write and direct his latest, The Trial Of The Chicago 7. Detailing the true story of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Sorkin highlights a peaceful protest turned riot that feels scarily relevant to the current political climate. In 2020, when civil unrest is consistently growing, this film is unfortunately timely considering it occurred over half a decade ago; yet due to the seemingly ineffective forms of education Americans are provided, history seems to be repeating itself in many ways. Luckily, for those who refuse to read about history, there’s a plethora of films to view and learn from, and Sorkin effortlessly provided one that is educational, entertaining, and electrifying all at once.
This film is obviously rooted in the group that it shares its name with, the Chicago Seven. The defendants consisted of various activists from around the country that represented different groups all sharing a common goal. From the Youth International Party (Yippies) to the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) or the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE), each group was led by a revolutionary to voice their vehement disagreement with the Vietnam war. How they come to these conclusions ranges however, and it’s shown to the viewers in an electrifying opening that introduces all the key players of the film. Sorkin comes out of the gate moving at a mile a minute as is to be expected, but the points of each group and their distinct personalities are felt organically and provide for a strong opening scene. Sorkin’s deft script and directing are not the only reason why it works so well though, and much acclaim deserves to be placed on the incredible ensemble cast.
Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Redmayne, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and more all bring such a raw fire to each distinct performance. Where Cohen and Strong are laid back yet headstrong to some degree, Redmayne is reserved yet passionate. Where John Carroll Lynch and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are level headed, Abdul-Mateen II brings a fiery passion to the screen in a smaller, yet truly impactful performance as Bobby Seale, co-founder of The Black Panther Party. The focus of the film isn’t on Seale for a majority of its runtime, but to say each on screen moment of his could compete for one of the best scenes of the year isn’t a stretch by any means; for his struggle isn’t one that remains locked in the 60’s. The hostile and unjust treatment of anybody attempting to use their voice for change or to address the root problems of America are taken down, and unfortunately, taken down by means of violence. As Sorkin cuts to spliced in footage of the actual riots that took place outside the DNC, the only factor differentiating clips from then and now is the black and white coloring. Through a stroke of unfortunate events, Sorkin released a film that is shockingly relevant, making the conclusion hit that much harder.
Whether it’s the subject matter at hand, or just Sorkin’s ability to craft truly riveting sequences revolving solely around rapid fire dialogue, this film is deeply immersive. Blatant injustice is shown to emotionally grip the viewer, and even the “antagonists” of the film, the prosecution, take a backseat to the genuine villains of this story. However, it bears questioning how much of the script is pulled directly from transcripts of the court procession, and how much was purely Sorkin’s flair. Moments of this feel tonally off, and while it doesn’t drag the film down too much, there are disjointed moments that disrupt the flow of certain sequences. Other than that, the film handles its subject matter eloquently and without much melodrama, making for a thrilling conclusion.
This film shines a much-needed light on the injustice that has corrupted America for years. Following Sorkin’s recent stint on Broadway, having written the stage adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird, this courtroom drama seems like a wonderful companion piece and follow up writing gig. He once again proves himself to be one of the finest writers of this day and age, taking past subjects and injecting them with the lively energy of a bolt of electricity. If this is the only way some decide to absorb their history, at least Sorkin is doing a great job at making it entertaining for audiences. However, this film extends beyond that. It asks of the viewer to do deeper research, and take a stand for something. This is not a film that should be idly viewed, nor one to be put on solely for entertainment. It’s an important film that is releasing in one of the most crucial years of American history, and if anything should come out of the release of The Trial of the Chicago 7, it will hopefully be a remembrance of all those who made their voices heard, and will encourage many others to follow in the footsteps of those who refused to sit by.
The Trial Of The Chicago 7 is currently streaming on Netflix.