The Trial of the Chicago 7

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

The Trial of the Chicago 7
dir-scr Aaron Sorkin
prd Marc Platt, Stuart Besser, Matt Jackson, Tyler Thompson
with Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella, Alex Sharp, John Carroll Lynch, Michael Keaton, Noah Robbins, Danny Flaherty, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Ben Shenkman, Caitlin FitzGerald, Alice Kremelberg
release US 25.Sep.20,
UK 2.Oct.20
20/US DreamWorks 2h09

abdul-mateen gordon-levitt langella

Is it streaming?

baron cohen, flaherty, redmayne, strong and Rylance
With his usual approach to sizzling dialog and rapid-fire storytelling, Aaron Sorkin tackles a notorious event at a pivotal period in America that has strong parallels to the situation today. This makes the movie feel rather dense, with little space to breathe, but the narrative is riveting. Especially as it touches on much bigger themes about how the powerful manipulate and even discard the law when they feel threatened.
In 1968, the expansion of fighting in Vietnam, combined with high-profile assassinations, creates a wave of anger at both the war and racial injustice. So several groups of mainly student activists head to Chicago to protest peacefully at the Democratic Convention. After riots erupt, officials charge eight participants: students Tom Hayden (Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Sharp), hippies Abbie Hoffman (Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Strong), pacifist David (Carroll Lynch) and small-town activists Lee and John (Robbins and Flaherty), plus Black Panther Bobby Seale (Abdul-Mateen), who wasn't protesting at all. And the trial is outrageous.
The zippy script introduces characters early on, then leaps ahead to the politically motivated, which plays out with forensic detail. Bright young prosecutor Richard Schultz (Gordon-Levitt) isn't sure of the case but goes for it, while defender William Kunstler (Rylance) tries to corral the hilariously unruly hippies and help Seale, who isn't being represented in court. The judge (Langella) has an understandably short temper, but is far from objective. Meanwhile, the riot plays out in flashbacks during witness testimony, including harrowing depictions of the heavy-handed police response.

The enormous, almost entirely male cast is adept at creating vivid, memorable characters while grappling with Sorkin's layered dialog. With the most colourful roles, Baron Cohen and Strong are the standouts, playing hilarious deadpan comedy underpinned with razor-sharp intelligence. Baron Cohen has several electric moments of his own as Hoffman takes the witness stand and later recounts events in a standup routine. Langella fearlessly depicts the judge's vicious (and illegal) actions and reactions. The smaller female roles have their own impact.

Sorkin stages each scene skilfully, with striking attention to complex details. As events unfold, the corruption in the justice system is shocking, as the judge encourages a dirty prosecution that's based on grudges and bigotry. What actually happened at the protests and trial is often jaw-dropping, things we'd never believe if this was fiction. And Sorkin actually tones some of it down. And the shocking truth eerily echoes what's going on right now under another government that divides the public and subverts law and order.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 19.Oct.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall