Back at the 1968 Democratic Convention, anti-war protesters clashed with law enforcement over the Vietnam War. In a move that reeked of politics, several unattached and independent men were charged with conspiracy and inciting riots, despite none of them (or most of them) having ever met.
The "Trial of the Chicago 8" as it was called, received national attention and put the Vietnam War itself on public trial. In the new Netflix film, "The Trial of the Chicago 7," (streaming on October 16th), profound wordsmith, writer and director Aaron Sorkin ("The Newsroom," "West Wing," "Molly's Game") gives this dark moment in American history his usual insightful spin, mixing in humor to fill-in-the-blanks between moments of real outrage. It's a courtroom drama for sure, but what makes it special is that it's a courtroom drama from Aaron Sorkin.
It's a star-studded cast to say the least. Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Alex Sharp and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (fresh off his Emmy win for HBO's "Watchmen") play several of the activists put on trial. Mark Rylance - brilliant as ever - is their defense attorney squaring off against the young up-and-coming prosecutor played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Frank Langella rips his teeth into his scenes as the intimidating, crotchety-old judge, Julius Hoffman, who oversaw the case in court. Even Michael Keaton shows up as former federal official, Ramsey Clark.
Oh and if you're wondering why this film refers to the "Chicago 7" instead of the "Chicago 8," it's because Black Panther leader (the activist group, not the Marvel movie) Bobby Seale (Abdul-Mateen II) was thrown into the proceedings despite not even being present at the Convention grounds...it seems that the government sought to "scare" the American public a bit more by including a Black Panther among the list of defendants. Seale was released mid-way through the proceedings, and rightfully so.
Sorkin's take on this event is never dull, and it rings as especially relevant given the massive protests in our country today. And while a few of the performances absolutely shine, like, with an award-worthy shine (looking at you Jeremy Strong, Mark Rylance and Frank Langella), there are a few performances that don't quite stick. Eddie Redmayne, for example, doesn't seem to be the right casting choice for the young college student he's playing, and while Sacha Baron Cohen is at times mesmerizing as flower-power founder Abbie Hoffman, his noticeable, iconic accent slips in more than a few times. Minor quibbles to be sure, but both flaws in what is otherwise a powerhouse ensemble cast.
With Sorkin, it's usually all about characters and the dialogue between them, and "The Trial of the Chicago 7" is so effective in these regards, that many are touting this as one of the best films of the year. They're not wrong. Even still, a great courtroom drama is still a courtroom drama, even if it is an Aaron Sorkin courtroom drama...but given the limitations within those courtroom walls, "The Trial of the Chicago 7" should render a pleasing, unanimous verdict from its audience.
Genre: Drama, History.
Run Time: 2 hours 9 minutes.
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Shenkman, Frank Langella, Michael Keaton.
Written and Directed by Aaron Sorkin ("Molly's Game").
"The Trial of the Chicago 7" is available on Netflix on Friday, October 16th, 2020.
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