The Trial of the Chicago 7: Netflix Film Review

The Trial of the Chicago 7

I’m a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin‘s work so of course, I was excited for The Trial of the Chicago 7, which he has written and directed, and he didn’t disappoint – this is one of my favourite films of the year so far.

The drama tells the story of the trial against the organisers of an anti-Vietnam War protest outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. Their attempt to peacefully protest the war was derailed by police officers who beat the demonstrators and used tear gas on them. Yet, months later, after Nixon was elected, the seven were indicted on charges of conspiracy to incite violence – and the main focus of the film is on the subsequent seven-month trial, or should I say circus.

The main players in the Chicago 7 are Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), and David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), while Black Panther Party leader Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) was thrown in with them for good measure. They are defended by William Kuntsler (Mark Rylance), prosecuted by Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and the case is presided over by a crooked judge named Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella).

I know this film is a dramatisation rather than a documentary and probably employs some poetic licence, but even still, this story is just unbelievable. The trial is farcical. My jaw kept dropping open with disbelief at how obviously shady, biased and unprofessional the judge was, how the defence tirelessly tried to fight to get some resemblance of a fair trial, and how horrifically Seale was treated when he shouldn’t have even been there in the first place. It’s shocking, frustrating stuff and I came away wanting to read more about it.

Although the story is interesting, it could have been a very dry, serious and straightforward courtroom drama if Sorkin hadn’t structured his film in a way that made it so much more compelling. We don’t see what happened during the protest until after the trial begins and witnesses start giving testimony and we are then drip-fed little relevant flashbacks to the organising of the protest and the demonstration itself. He also cleverly adds in snippets of Abbie Hoffman recalling the events on stage to a crowd at an intimate stand-up gig which helps the film feel even more dynamic.

There are many fantastic performances in this movie but the standouts for me were Baron Cohen and Redmayne. They play very different characters who want the same thing but achieve it by different means. Redmayne is straitlaced and politically driven and gets the main emotional beats of the movie, while Baron Cohen – who is known for his comedy – adds levity, wit and humour to the court proceedings as the hippie, drug-taking, camera-hungry Hoffman. I also liked Rylance as the exasperated Kuntsler, I felt so sorry for him being treated so badly by the judge, and Gordon-Levitt as Schultz, who has a heart and a conscience and realises what his prosecution team is doing is wrong.

This is a Sorkin screenplay so of course, it is terrific. The actors were all on their A-game and the story was shocking, gripping, and fascinating. A must-see.

In cinemas now and on Netflix from 16th October 

Rating: 5/5

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