Aaron Sorkin’s best film in years, period.
The next opus from writer/director Aaron Sorkin is called “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” It’s one of the best courtroom dramas I’ve ever seen-one that is full of words, violence, sly wit, and people standing up for what they believe in. In this case, it has 7 Anti-Vietnam War protestors, known as the Chicago 7, on trial for conspiracy, inciting to riot, and other charges related to the protests in Chicago. All of this during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Not all of us existed during that time period, and being a young film critic, I was able to learn about a political event, and Sorkin tells it as it was. It’s in a similar vein with his previous works in “A Few Good Men” and “The Social Network,” and the speeches and historic moments are real and provocative.
Let’s meet the defendants. It was originally 8 people charged, until Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a leader of the Black Panther Party, was severed from the case. The remaining members consist of Abbie Hoffman (Sasha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), the founders of the Youth International Party (Yippies), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), a pacifist who didn’t want to resort to violence, Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), a social and political activist, Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), a protester who was beaten by the cops, and John Froines (Daniel Flaherty) and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), the only members to be acquitted.
The judge and main antagonist during the trial was Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella), who constantly has to deal with Seale’s interruptions, and is forced to have him gagged and beaten by the guards, just before he sends him to prison for contempt of court and removes him from the case. He was one Hell of a mean judge.
Among the other people in the courtroom, the lawyer defending the protestors was William Kunstler (Mark Rylance), the opposing prosecutors were the reluctant Richard Scultz (Jospeh Gordon-Levitt) and the stern Tom Foran (J.C. MacKenzie), and a defense witness was AG Ramsey Clark (Michael Keaton).
The performances from the cast is undeniably perfect. Langella delivers a fiery performance when he constantly deals with the defendants. Cohen is hilarious when he makes fun of the judge by jokingly calling him “daddy,” because they both have the same last name. Abdul-Mateen II knocks it out of the park when he uses his voice and strengths to convince us he’s Bobby Seale. Rylance sticks to his character, and never lets go. And Redmayne shines with a certain vibe I saw in Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network.”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a poetic and dangerous film about a dangerous riot and poetic people who despised all the killings. It also does a bold and daring job at distinguishing the heroes (vigilantes) and villains (the law enforcers) without acting like some kind of propaganda film. It distinguishes them on their personalities, and you’re able to see the colors inside them.
It’s one of the year’s best films, and you need to see how Aaron Sorkin (in his second directorial position after “Molly’s Game”) brings it to life.
P.S. If you’re not ready to go back to the theaters, given the COVID-19 pandemic, you can still see this on Netflix. That way you’re able to experience this tour-de-force.
Now Playing in Select Theaters
Available on Netflix October 16