Reel Reviews | The Trial of the Chicago 7

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

Aaron Sorkin guides an all-star cast through an extremely relevant courtroom drama called The Trial of the Chicago 7.

During the Democratic Party Convention of 1968 in Chicago, several groups joined together to illegally protest the war in Vietnam.  As a result, there were intensely violent confrontations between the protesters, the police, and the National Guard.  After the election, the Nixon administration decided to charge the eight organizers of the protest Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, Abbie Hoffman Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers with conspiracy.  In a case that can best be described as political, the eight of them face the trial of their lives.

Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, the long-awaited film, in true Sorkin style, stars Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Ben Shankman, Frank Langella, Danny Flaherty, John Doman, and Michael Keaton.  The film features three Academy Award winners (Redmayne, Rylance, and Sorkin) and three nominees (Keaton, Langella, and Cohen).  Sorkin has a reputation for assembling a cadre of excellent actors and giving them excellence with which to work.

First of all, this movie has been in development since 2006 with various directors and stars most notably Steven Spielberg who was going to try to have the ill-fated Heath Ledger as one of the stars.  In fact, Ledger died the day before his meeting with Spielberg over the role. With a cast this strong, this was deep water for the sophomore effort from director Sorkin, one of the most prolific writers in recent memory.

Simply put, Sorkin delivers.  His writing is predictably superb.  Sorkin is the master of the actor aria having written some of the most well-known dramatic lines in the movies and television in recent memory.  There is no letdown here.  Chicago 7 is littered with quips and one-liners but also has at least three powerful monologues and numerous back and forth duets between the actors. 

This movie is a master class in acting with almost every actor submitting performances that could easily be nominated for an Oscar.  The most outstanding performance belongs to Frank Langella’s portrayal of Judge Julius Hoffman.  The biased, inept, and incomprehensible Hoffman is infuriating as the villain that nobody can overcome despite every attempt.  Because this movie is based on a true story makes the performance that much more chilling because it is true.  Unlike other “based on a true story” movies, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a mostly factual account of the actual trial and the conversations that happened during it.   Sorkin does an impressive job of weaving the stories into an intensely dramatic and haunting cautionary tale about the dangers of governmental overreach and injustice for the sake of politics.

Rated R for language throughout, some violence, bloody images, and drug use, The Trial of the Chicago 7 works on so many levels that it is a film that demands to be watched more than once.  The first time is for the shock.  The second for the story.

Grade:  A

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