Alan Sorkin has conjured up a bonafide crowd-pleaser with The Trial of The Chicago 7. While it skirts around with the facts at times has its heart firmly in the right place. A must watch a film.
Peaceful anti-Vietnam War protests during the Democratic Parties National Convention in 1968 had an air of tension around it. The tension exploded into a series of riots that caused Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennis Davis (Alex Sharp), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), John Friones (Daniel Flaherty) and Black Panther Bobby Searle (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) to be indicted for causing said riot and destruction. The film plays out the events of the trial, interspersed with the events before and during the riots.
Will there be as smooth of an opening to a film in 2020 as in The Trial of the Chicago 7? I very much doubt it. Sorkin can introduce our 7 characters and their personalities so smoothly that you are pulled in without realising it. Helped by cutting from one character to the next thanks to dialogue is not used a lot. So the freshness of it remains.
It should be of no surprise that Sorkin has returned to the courtroom and political sphere with this picture. Perhaps where he is strongest as a writer and an easy choice for him as a director. When details of events are presented to the jury and the audience it is split. From witness statements of undercover cops, of the actual events and Abbie sharing the details to a crowd. This switch allows for Sorkin to leave the courtroom, while still hearing the case. It is a clever move and one that allows the audience to not be drained from the proceedings.
Sorkin’s script allows for the characters to shine and dictate the film with a 2 hour run time, the film positively whizzes by. Sorkin has always been great with his pacing and again he does his best to work in what he can. This however also hurts the film a tad.
There are some issues with The Trial of The Chicago 7, and that is how truncated Sorkin has had to make the film. There is only so much of a 5 month plus long court case you can document in two and a hair hours. Such is the drama and information we know about the real trial that even a mini-series would struggle to contain all of the noteworthy moments. So the feeling that we are missing out on some information will always remain here and while for the most part, we can get past it. Some are slightly less forgivable.
The truncated time we have with Bobby Searle is a prime example of this. Sorkin has given us limited time with him and the main issue of perhaps the most spoken about a moment in the trial. When Judge Hoffman has Searle gagged and bound to his chair it is only for a short time. Yet, in reality, this somehow went on for several days. We do not get to see Schulz show his compassion for those on trial by figuring a way for Searle to be free. By ignoring the amount of time we have Searle bound for. Allowing for Schulz to be more of a hired hand character and as an audience. We can feel for him being stuck in the unenviable position he is in.
If Sorkin had kept the length of time Searle was in this situation it would negatively affected our thoughts on Schulz. He is the one that suggests the mistrial after all. By lumping him in with the Government as the villains of the piece, we loss what Sorkin had built him to be.
Other problems are that it feels too slick. That everything is staged too perfectly. Everything is well lit and bright for that perfect cinematic shot, yet it needs to feel a bit dirtier for the story it is telling. This causes a feeling of dramatisation to rise instead of feeling that we are experiencing what is happening. A simple comparison to this would be Steve McQueen’s Mangrove. While there are some gorgeous shots in that picture, it feels real, the basement kitchen, the Mangrove itself, the courtroom. It all feels real, whereas in The Trial of The Chicago 7 it sadly feels staged.
This of course is not to discount the impact of the film as it is a great one. Yet it feels like something is missing, perhaps it is the fact that even without knowing the case overly well, it feels like more has been left to the side to fit what we have? Regardless there is a lot to love here and one such thing is the performances.
Our ensemble is vast and brilliant with obvious standouts. Cohen steals the screen anytime he is in the frame thanks to the sheer force of his personality. This is a performance that should bring awards. Equally, Abdul-Mateen II has given us a wonderful performance. A mixture of rage and restraint. He is on the edge of exploding at any minute and you are waiting for it to happen and when it does, it becomes explosive.
Mark Rylance as defence attorney William Kunstler is sensational here and his work is undervalued as the voice of reason. A man who at every point has to understand why Judge Hoffman is saying and deciding what he is and can barely keep his frustrations under control as he tries to defend these men. Of course, the rest of the cast is terrific. As much as we would like to wax lyrical about them all, there is no time for now.
Interestingly the producers of The Trial of The Chicago 7 and Netflix have decided that all of the cast will be eligible for Best Supporting Actor. While great is a definite shame as it will most likely mean that a number will not get a nomination, much like the cast of Spotlight.
This is a much watch and another film this year that makes itself essential viewing. With films like The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Mangrove. 2020 has proved to be a stellar year for political movement court dramas. A film that has to be watched and one that lives to the hype.
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