Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

A review on American legal drama feature length film, The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020). The film is directed by Aaron Sorkin who is most famously known for writing screenplays such as A Few Good Men, Enemy Of The State and The Social Network. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is Sorkin’s second directorial film and is a Netflix Original. 

+ Crew

  • Directed by Aaron Sorkin
  • Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael
  • Written by Aaron Sorkin
  • Music by Daniel Pemberton
  • Edited by Alan Baumgarten
  • Produced by Stuart M. Besser, Matt Jackson,  Marc Platt and Tyler Thompson

+ Crew II (Production Houses)

  • Paramount Pictures
  • DreamWorks Pictures
  • Cross Creek Pictures
  • Marc Platt Productions
  • ShivHans Pictures

+ Note

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is an Anti-Vietnam war film and was always a pet project of Sorkin. He conceived the screenplay as early as 2007 with Steven Spielberg attached to direct the film with mostly unknown actors at the time. Due to budget cuts and 2007 Writers Guild of America strike, Aaron Sorkin was chosen to direct the film instead. Sorkin’s previous film was Molly’s Game (2017) which was a critical and a commercial hit. Due to the Pandemic, Paramount Pictures sold the rights to Netflix and the film was on its streaming service from Oct 16th, 2020 onwards.

+ Main Cast

  1. Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden
  2. Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman
  3. Alex Sharp as Rennie Davis
  4. Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin
  5. John Carroll Lynch as David Dellinger
  6. Noah Robbins as Lee Weiner
  7. Daniel Flaherty as John Froines
  8. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Richard Schultz
  9. Mark Rylance as William Kunstler
  10. Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman

+ Plot

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the true story of a legal drama where a band of individual Anti-Vietnam war protest organizers were arrested by the Chicago police and put on trial for the charge of inciting violence during the Democratic national convention.

+ High Points

i – As far as legal dramas go, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is one of the most engaging to come out in the past five years. Although it’s quite obviously a crowd pleaser (including manipulation of events for a more dramatic effect), the film still remains very true to its narrative. The injustice and the divide between the two sides was never more apparent than it was during the Vietnam War (up until now that is…).

ii – And of course, no legal drama is complete without its all-round great performances from its lead actors including Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman and Mark Rylance as William Kunstler. The film consists of a great ensemble cast and a fiery, suspenseful story which leaves not even a moment of unnecessary scene or dialogue. And just like Robert Altman’s films, almost every character is memorable in its own way.

iii – During the research for this review, I came across footage of some of the real life counterparts (such as Abbie Hoffman and Judge Hoffman) of the characters portrayed in the film and it’s simply uncanny! The mannerisms and movements are very accurately depicted by the actors which proves how dedicated they were to their roles in the film.

iv – The editing is cranked up to 11 by Alan Baumgarten who successfully brings the charged, electric atmosphere of the late 60s onto the screen. The splicing of black and white newsreel footage with the protest scenes really bring an authentic look to the injustices of the post Kennedy era.

v – While Spielberg was not agreeable to move ahead with the project, Sorkin is certainly a no pushover. His set pieces and heightened drama captivates the audience throughout its runtime. The charged protest scenes integrate almost seamlessly to the more quiet, character building moments of the film. Although it is only Sorkin’s second directorial film, he certainly has a knack for great storytelling. 

vi – The Trial of the Chicago 7 was in post production during the time George Floyd protests broke out all over the country. This makes one realise how the world sadly has not changed for the better. Racism, injustice and the Military–industrial complex is still a major issue even now. The film is relevant then, now and unfortunately will be for years to come.

+ Low Points

i – While the film is great in so many ways, it does seem a bit too simplistic in its point of view of the “other”. Due to its ultra polished storytelling, it also unfortunately leaves no room for complex characterizations. 

ii – There were a couple of times throughout the film where one could witness how that scene was “re-imagined” just to dramatize the scene further and… you wouldn’t be wrong. The Trial of the Chicago 7 unfortunately does fall for certain clichés of storytelling that restricts any further development in individual ideas and thoughts once you have finished watching the film.

iii – There is a scene later in the film where Eddie Redmayne’s character makes a valiant speech about how counterculture will be more remembered to be as “a bunch of stoned, lost, disrespectful, foulmouthed, lawless losers and so we’ll lose elections.” Obviously Tom Hayden never made such a speech and it seems very apparent that it was added by Sorkin just to tie in the perception of the Left today. Even though it’s a great line, it could’ve been integrated into the script far better and poignantly. The film is sometimes incredibly straightforward in what it wants its audience to think. And that’s not the best form of storytelling.

iv –  A film like The Trial of the Chicago 7 with its highly volatile subject matter, needed much less polish and finesse to it. The highly controlled environment (although impressive) do not go well with its theme. And you see hints of it during the splicing of the real life newsreel footage in between the protest scenes. The film needed much more of that in its dialogue and performances. 

+ Overall

The Trial of the Chicago 7 might be a simplistic, crowd pleaser of a film but it’s definitely worthy of being one of the best legal dramas to come out in the past few years. It’s a story that needs to be told and viewed by anyone who wants to understand ‘What is it that divides Humanity from progress?’.

Rate: 3.75 out of 5 stars

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