October 5, 2020

SCREEN | Aaron Sorkin Judges 'The Trial of the Chicago 7'

"We have to find some courage now."
Sacha Baron Cohen Jeremy Strong Aaron Sorkin | The Trial of the Chicago 7 on Netflix
DreamWorks Pictures
Acclaimed writer turned director Aaron Sorkin returns to courtroom drama for his sophomore directorial effort revisiting the infamous Chicago riots during the 1968 Democratic Convention. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is both standard and stylish in the vein of Sorkin's usual cannon but with a more streamlined focus on the dangerous politicization of protest movements and reflection of 1960s counterculture's impact fifty years later.

Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, and Jeremy Strong as Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin among the eponymous seven with Mark Rylance as their sympathetic lawyer and the heart of the film's unabashedly leftist appeal, the film's embarrassingly deep all-star cast is by far its biggest draw and appeal. Cohen is particularly incredible at channeling the manic genuis of Hoffman's natural rockstar charisma in all of its iconoclasm.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II co-stars, in a theatrically buoyant performance, as Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale who was comically added to the Chicago Seven conspiracy despite not knowing any of his alleged co-conspirators and leaving the city before the riots even started. Rounding out the main cast, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is another standard-bearer as the reluctant prosecutor dubiously trying the case against the protestors while Michael Keaton comes in late as an absolute ringer.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Ben Shenkman Mark Rylance Eddie Redmayne Alex Sharp | Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of the Chicago 7 on Netflix

Where Sorkin has always excelled in his historical adaptations and real-life dramatizations is his ability to find and relay truths so performatively despite his flair for theatrically remixing facts and events through drama and dialogue. It's no different in his staging of the events seen of Chicago 7 as his direction defers to the actors' performances and his economical writing.

Sorkin flies through the turbulent real-life material in his efficient fashion yet. The Trial of the Chicago 7 wisely avoids trying to do too much and becomes instantly timely because of our world today. Despite its sterling pedigree and fine execution, it never quite elevates the already highbrow material to the heights of many of Sorkin's other works. Perhaps his standard is already so high but the film almost feels quaint in its solid effort.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is available to stream on Netflix starting October 16th.

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