In the picture

October 25, 2020

The Trial of the Chicago 7 soars on the strength of its compelling fact-based tale and excellent cast.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 ★★★ 1/2

*ing: Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Noah Robbins, Daniel Flaherty, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mark Rylance, Frank Langella, and Michael Keaton

Written and directed by: Aaron Sorkin

Tagline: Based on a true story.

A terrific ensemble cast powers Aaron Sorkin’s new film, The Trial of the Chicago 7, a legal drama that takes a fascinating – albeit not entirely faithful – look at an interesting chapter from history.

The movie is built on real-life events surrounding a group of anti-war protesters who were charged with trying to incite a riot in the ‘60s.

With the Vietnam War’s toll rising, a divided U.S. descends into demonstrations and unrest in 1968, as protestors converge at the Democratic National Convention and face off against the police on the streets of Chicago.

Eight of these activists – portrayed by Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Noah Robbins, Daniel Flaherty, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II – thereby end up in court, facing charges of inciting the riot that ensued.

With a biased judge (Frank Langella) at the helm, the trial soon degenerates into a farce. It quickly becomes obvious that the proceedings aren’t heading towards a fair verdict. The defendants start antagonizing the judge and then end up with multiple contempt of court charges, as do their attorneys (Mark Rylance and Ben Shenkman). How things unfold often falls between bizarre and appalling.

Working off his own screenplay, Sorkin creates a powerful drama laced with social commentary, made all the more compelling by the fact that the political and social tumult from half a century ago often mirrors the country’s current atmosphere. What sometimes detracts from the impact, however, is Sorkin’s decision to stray from reality, his embellishments trading authenticity for misrepresentations, tropes, and a rousing ending.

But while the director stumbles in his choice to rewrite events and fictionalize counter-culture icons to fit his narrative, the actors who bring this story to cinematic life deliver such solid performances that it’s impossible not to find the proceedings gripping.

The entire cast – from Sacha Baron Cohen’s portrayal of activist Abbie Hoffman to Mark Rylance’s depiction of defence attorney William Kunstler – is terrific.

All in all, The Trial of the Chicago 7 may not be a perfect film but it easily ranks among the most powerful releases of the year and is certainly among the best films that Netflix has released of late. The Paramount Pictures project was originally headed for the big screen before being acquired by the streaming service amidst the on-going pandemic. The movie makes for compelling viewing, thanks to its thought-provoking drama, fascinating real events, dark wit, and great performers.

Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only
*** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection

In the picture