The Trial of the Chicago 7 - A-
Rated R, 130 minutes
The absorbing, powerful new fact-based drama "The Trial of the Chicago 7" examines the trial surrounding the famously-named group of protesters and the U.S. government. Pertinent and superbly-acted by an all-star ensemble cast, the film is written and directed with polish by Oscar-winner Aaron Sorkin of "The Social Network" and "The West Wing" fame.
The film is based on the infamous 1969 trial of the "Chicago 7" (including Abbie Hoffman, played by Sacha Baron Cohen), David Rubin (Emmy-winner Jeremy Strong of "Succession,” hardly recognizable) and Tom Hayden (Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne) charged by the federal government with conspiracy and more, arising from the countercultural protests in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The trial transfixed the nation and sparked a conversation about mayhem intended to undermine the U.S. government.
The immensely entertaining "The Trial of the Chicago 7," currently streaming on Netflix after a wide-release was shuffled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is a relevant study on the effect of protesters and how the U.S. government deals with it. Due to its themes and the powerhouse cast, expect to see it garner some accolades. Sorkin seems the perfect writer for this type of high drama, and he doesn't fail, though courtroom dramas in general (and the courtroom scenes are the highlight here too) are generally foolproof in eliciting dramatic moments that make for great movies.
Sorkin casts a wide net here, bringing in many, many characters into the narrative, many of them played by well-known actors. On the upside, there are several performances likely to get awards attention, including Redmayne, affecting as Hayden, who would later become a congressman and marry actress Jane Fonda and Baron Cohen, who steals every scene he's in as the colorful Hoffman. As well, character actor Frank Langella ("Frost/Nixon") is memorable as corrupt Judge Julius Hoffman, whose bias was clearly on display during the trial, and recent Emmy-winner Yahya Abdul-Mateen II of "Watchmen," is excellent as the eighth protestor, Black Panther leader Bobby Seale, whose case was eventually severed from the others due to his courtroom outbursts.
On the downside, a few get lost in the fray of the proceedings, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has little to do as one of the defense attorneys, Strong as Rubin (he's usually paired with Baron Cohen, which limits his screen time), Oscar-winner Mark Rylance, miscast as William Kunstler, the protestors' attorney, and Michael Keaton, who appears in only a couple of brief scenes as a government official.
Sorkin could've tightened his narrative some in the last act and honed in on a few of the main characters, but otherwise "The Trial of the Chicago 7," bolstered by its riveting courtroom scenes and solid performances, is a worthy look at how protestors fared in recent generations (note: as good as they do now, which isn't very well). It's also a chance to see one of the best dramas of the year and one that should heavily play into the upcoming awards season.