Director: Aaron Sorkin
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
A retelling of the infamous trial of the 7 people (well, it was actually 8 for most of it) who were charged by the US Government for a number of charges arising from the counterculture protests in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention that descended into a violent battle between the protesters and the police.
Whether it be the day-to-day goings on in the White House, the career of Steve Jobs, the creation of Facebook or indeed the rules of poker, Aaron Sorkin does have an incredible ability to write dialogue that makes any subject gripping and engaging, and he succeeds again by providing us with a cinematic depiction of the trial of the Chicago 7. Not only does Sorkin manage to provide us with an engrossing film where the 129 minutes just fly by, but he manages to successfully give us a film that captures a very specific moment in time while making it also feel very prevalent to what is happening in the world today.
However, what is most impressive within Sorkin’s script and film (he is the director too after all) is that it never feels preachy or patronising, and is happy to disclose the flaws of the film’s main characters – sometimes they can be genuinely unlikeable, but that is of course part of the point as the film is about more than that, these characters are human and therefore very much guilty of being flawed individuals (aren’t we all?), but that does not of course mean that they are guilty of what they have been charged with.
I must confess to knowing very little about the actual real-life trial, so cannot comment on what Is fact and what is fiction, but Sorkin manages to successfully make a film that is genuinely gripping despite it consisting mainly of dialogue-heavy scenes that are of either the trail itself or the characters sitting around talking about the trial (there are the occasional scenes of the protests that are told in flashback that are appropriately shown as the trial progresses) thanks to the sharp, snappy and often quite humorous dialogue.
Sorkin manages to get together a very impressive ensemble cast, and each actor gets their own moment to deliver and each character gets the right amount of development without there ever being a clear main actor or character that gets too much focus or limelight that detracts from the overall story. The ‘7’ are very much a group of misfits thrown together, and some of the inevitable friction between the characters provides great viewing. One of the most powerful elements of the story is inevitably what happens to the 8th member of the ‘7’, and though at times this does feel like it is rammed down the audiences throat a little too much, the fact that this happened then and still happens now means that it adds a genuine level of depressing and pertinent amount of poignancy to the narrative that reminds us that despite the fact that this story is set around 50 years ago, some things and certain societal attitudes have not actually changed.
The cast of big names are all excellent and deliver appropriate performances which makes sure that though each character is memorable and distinctive in their own way, it never feels like there is a ‘main’ character. There are admittedly two of the 7 that are very forgettable, but without going into spoilers that is actually very much the point. Meanwhile on the other side Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s idealist young lawyer representing the state is also very well developed, and certainly sympathetic on some levels.
As with all films written by Aaron Sorkin, there is not much that can be said about them without going into spoiler territory, but there is no doubting that The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a genuinely engaging and gripping drama from start to finish, even if it ultimately may not last that long in the memory once it is over.
Though not perhaps up there with his very best, The Trial of the Chicago 7 still perfectly showcases the incredible talent of Aaron Sorkin as a screenwriter in that he is able to make dialogue-heavy courtroom scenes, and even more dialogue heavy scenes of people talking about the courtroom scenes so incredibly engaging – producing an effortlessly watchable film that captures perfectly a moment in the past while also feeling quite topical.
At time of writing The Trial of the Chicago 7 can be seen at selected UK cinemas and will be available to stream on Netflix from 16th October.