Aaron Sorkin is back and blending his penchant for political and historical dramas with The Trial Of The Chicago 7.
Based on the real events of the 1968 Chicago riots, which pitted protesters of the Vietnam war against police, the drama centres on the painfully long court case of the ‘eight’ people blamed for inciting them.
Clubbed together despite barely knowing each other, the team are led by loudmouths and ‘flower power’ leaders Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), who intend to disrupt the system and make a mockery of the case in any way possible.
Then there’s Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), a stiff-upper lipped rich boy with liberal ideals that he hasn’t quite figured out how to put into practice, and David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), a family man and literal Boy Scout leader.
Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and John Froines (Danny Flaherty) are seemingly along for the ride and are barely bit players in their own story, and finally there’s Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a Black Panther leader dragged into the trial despite only being in Chicago a full four hours, and not being present at the riots.
What incurs is a trial that appears to be unwinnable, with Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) making up his mind before day one even started – and they were in that courtroom for five months.
Trial Of The Chicago 7 is up for five Oscars at this year’s awards (Picture: Netflix)
Refusing critical testimony, forcing Seale to appear in court without a lawyer present, and repeated counts of ‘contempt of court’ aimed at the defence, there are moments that are a truly horrific watch as things escalate to the point of pure, frustrating farce.
These scenes in the courtroom are played out beautifully by everyone involved, though we can’t help but feel Bobby Seale was relegated to the sidelines throughout this trial. Yes, he shouldn’t have been there, but his purpose for the sake of this film seems to be ‘wheel him out for some dramatics, and then have him disappear again’.
Eventually, like the real trial, he is separated from the others in a mistrial – and he’s never heard from again despite being one of the most interesting characters on that bench. After that, Eddie Redmayne’s Tom takes over.
You can appreciate that with eight leading characters (more if you include the defence and prosecution lawyers and the judge) it’ll be hard to put your focus in just one area – and sadly quite a few stories are forgotten in the name of the bigger picture.
The chaotic trial is played out in excrutiating, frustrating detail (Picture: Netflix)
Bobby Seale got a raw end of the deal both in trial and in this movie (Picture: Netflix)
Bobby Seale’s story is the most glaring oversight, but Weiner and Froines – who are on trial – barely even get lines apart from one scene where they question why they’re even there.
The central story focuses on Redmayne, Cohen and Strong’s characters, and as dynamic political duo Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, it’s Cohen and Strong that truly steal the show in the film.
Smart to a cocky extent, funny and quick-witted – Rubin and Hoffman are idealists who actually have the knowledge to back up their beliefs in any argument.
Easily dismissed as stoner hippies, they are actually the two characters who seem to do right in any situation thrown at them… while having some fun and shaking up the system in the process.
The horrors of the Chicago Riots are laid out by those who experienced it (Picture: Netflix)
While we see flashbacks of the actual riots, the real, intense drama truly thrives in the courtroom at its best.
Sorkin has tweaked and embellished history for the sake of statement in several key moments throughout this film, so if you want to know more about the real story, I’d suggest investing in a documentary.
But overall this film is a beautifully shot, tight summation of the events of that trial – and shockingly, proves to be even more relevant than ever.
The Trial Of The Chicago 7 gets off to a slow start but it sucked me in and I was fixated by the end of the two-hour runtime.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong are easily the standout performances in the courtroom drama, but the cast on the whole is strong with Aaron Sorkin’s directoral efforts once again proving to be perfectly pitched.
The only severe mark in the film, personally, was the lack of involvement of Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s character, Bobby Seale, who was seemingly relegated to being brought out at shock points and to drive home the bias of the judge, and practically nothing else.
If the entire movie was based around this man and the frustrations he faced, then I wouldn’t have been mad.
Yes, it’s a Hollywood version of the true events that inspired it, but then again this is a Hollywood movie and you can see their hearts are in the right place.
It’s sad that 50 years on that the events of this film still remain so relevant and feel like they could have taken place last week, but it’s a gripping ride nonetheless.
We can totally understand the Oscar buzz around it.
The Trial Of The Chicago 7 is available now on Netflix.