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The Trial of the Chicago 7

Aaron Sorkin's sophomore directional outing is a well-balanced and scarily relevant film

Aaron Sorkin is the latest filmmaker to be nabbed by Netflix after the talented likes of Alfonso Cuaron, Martin Scorsese, Noah Baumbach, Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay, Guillermo Del Toro, and Damien Chazelle. Sorkin’s latest film is the second one he’s directed, after Molly’s Game (2017), but this latest entry marks his return to the courtroom drama that first launched his career with A Few Good Men (1992).

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) is the true story of a bizarre prosecution of a group of protestors for seeming to incite violence during the 1968 Democratic Convention. The film shows how the opposition to the Vietnam War was at a breaking point, with the violent loss of such anti-war voices of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy angering many progressive Americans. The film, curiously, starts off after the events being judged, with our cast already in the courtroom. The group of charged range from various progressive and anti-war groups be they students (Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp), Yippies (Jeremy Strong, Sacha Baron Cohen), pacifists (John Carrol Lynch), or Black Panthers (Yahya Abdul Mateen II). As the trial goes on with an erratic and extremely biased judge (John Langella), we flash back to what actually happened on the events being questioned.

Sorkin himself acknowledged that the film scarily seemed to be reflecting today’s America, specifically the parallels of police brutality cracking down on protestors and politicians using calls of “law and order” to get elected. This gives The Trial of the Chicago 7 a timeless and extremely relevant feel. However, the film is also important in showing that such problems in American society are not new, but rather have been a constant for decades if not centuries. The 2020s are certainly beginning to look a lot like the 1960s in the United States, with the rise of potent protests and political movements desperately pushing chugging reform on.

Sorkin seems to find himself extremely at home in the courtroom setting, relishing his rapid-fire dialogue and intellectual quips. The director side of Sorkin, however, sees it necessary to take viewers out of the courtroom frequently, and he uses many flashbacks during court arguments to illustrate the film’s points without seeming preachy or expository. This proves to be an improvement from Sorkin’s Molly’s Game, which, while enjoyable, used too many cutaways or visual explanations to keep the audience up to speed. The increasing trust in viewers by the director Sorkin is a welcome addition. However, Sorkin has also developed a hand at crafting more emotionally compelling scenes. The director’s previous film work was known for being intellectually stimulating but slightly cold emotionally (akin to Christopher Nolan). In The Trial of the Chicago 7 Sorkin crafts some protest scenes that truly chill viewers and potentially move them to tears. This is largely thanks to some well-placed visual restraint and witty use of music.

The film, however, could have easily become a jumbled mess due to the size of the cast and main characters. However, Sorkin is able to achieve a balance so that no one feels rushed or caricatured. Each actor is given a sizeable amount of time to shine; and with the extremely talented cast that Sorkin arranged, they took advantage of it. It’s hard to single out a single performance in the entire film, I was certainly pleased and infuriated with Langella’s judge, and was surprised with the dramatic turn of Baron Cohen, or the comedic one from Strong (both seemed to meet each other at the middle), but overall they didn’t outshine anyone else in the stellar cast.

In the end, The Trial of the Chicago 7 proves to be an adept courtroom film from Sorkin, who produces a potently relevant film. The injustices, ideological, and political discourses are explored with clarity, and the sizeable cast is managed with an expert hand. Sorkin uses an effective editing style to tell his story, spicing up the courtroom scenes with those of the actual occurrences, helping maintain a steady pace. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a solid example of filmmaking, and its viewing proves to be a near-requirement in 2020’s socio-political context.



About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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