After Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut Molly’s Game (2017), he takes up the role once more with The Trial of the Chicago 7. The film had a turbulent production, originally written by Sorkin in 2007 and set to be directed by Stephen Spielberg, but the Hollywood writers’ strike prevented this from going ahead. When watching the film in 2021 on Netflix, it doesn’t feel like something that was meant for over 10 years prior, in fact it’s remarkably sobering how relevant it is to today.
The film is inspired by the true events of the courtroom trial of a group of anti-Vietnam war protesters called the Chicago 7. They were charged with conspiracy and the crossing of state lines to incite violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The film embellishes the story with an excellent cast including: Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a small role for Michael Keaton.
Through the trial the film explores the idea of political ideology seeping into supposedly impartial institutions. For me, the film walks the line of depicting a political subject without itself ever feeling like piece of political propaganda. It’s great to see a film like this that doesn’t spoon-feed its audience, both in terms of plot exposition (it expects its audience to be switched on and keep up) and in terms of political ideology.
For those that typically like the courtroom drama, The Trial of the Chicago 7 will keep you more invested through its two hour run time than those who don’t. After the opening sequence, the film is a little dry; there is a lot of technical jargon and the plot will be difficult for some to follow on first viewing. This is not a criticism of the film, not for one minute would I prefer it to be dumbed down. However, it will require patience from some viewers to fully get engaged in the film.
Their emotional arcs are aptly done and will pull you through some of the duller procedural portions of the film
This is perhaps compounded by the film being about an ensemble cast – this means there isn’t an eyes-in character to immediately latch onto. Yet, with a little more time, you will become invested in certain characters within the ensemble. Their emotional arcs are aptly done and will pull you through some of the duller procedural portions of the film. I found Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), the young student protest leader, and Richard Schultz’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), leader of the prosecution, stories the most independently satisfying.
Up until the end, as an entire piece, I was concerned the film wouldn’t stick the landing and instead limp across an obligatory finish line. The film up to this point had been good, but I was concerned it would fall into the same trap as many historical dramas and ultimately not have an actually story worth telling. However, I should have had more faith in Sorkin. The ending is extremely satisfying; its final revelation reframes the film and places the courtroom skirmishes in perspective. It’s both unpredictable and fitting for the story. The ending makes complete sense and is a reminder of what matters, both in life and in storytelling.
As always, Sorkin’s writing is enthralling to listen to – his finger prints are all over the script, yet all the characters still manage to have individual voices. Unfortunately, Sorkin’s direction leaves a little to be desired. The film’s visual are very competent, but they never do anything particularly noteworthy.
The visuals are absolutely a level above TV, but none of the shots have stuck with me and the music is forgettable too. Some may appreciate the film’s unremarkable presentation for the simple fact that it allows them to concentrate on the story, rather than appreciating the artifice of the film. For me, it is an issue! The visuals and music feel like too much of an afterthought, instead of an integral part of a cohesive whole.
In conclusion, The Trial of the Chicago Seven has a script that has stood the test of time since 2007 and will continue to do so. I’m not sure the film itself will be remembered in decades time – I don’t think Sorkin has quite yet found his directorial style. Yet, there is definitely lots of promise here. The film provides a fresh perspective on the Vietnam war to add to the array of films already made about the subject. It treats the politics of the time, and implicitly the politics of today, with maturity and substance.
In-article images courtesy of @trialofchicago7 via instagram.com. No changes made to these images.
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