A film highlighting a battle in the courts, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, best known for writing the 2010 film “The Social Network.” However, this is his second time directing since the 2017 film “Molly’s Game,” a Netflix original film.
The film follows the court case of the Chicago Seven, who were each part of different political groups and were charged for inciting the Chicago riots while protesting the Vietnam War in 1968. They were fighting an uphill legal battle, defending their case against federal prosecutors and a judge who was partial to their opposition.
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a good courtroom drama that gets lost within itself. It switches from being stylish in its presentation to more conventional, which clashes with its relevant topics.
The acting is what truly holds this film together.
The film stars Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden, Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, Alex Sharp as Rennie Davis, Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin, John Carroll Lynch as David Dellinger, Noah Robbins as Lee Weiner and Daniel Flaherty as John Froines. Together, they make up the Chicago Seven and do a great job at making each person stand out.
Out of the seven, Sacha Baron Cohen steals the show. He plays Abbie incredibly well and gives the film most of its brevity. He does a superb job in the role and it will stand as one of his best performances.
Along with them, the rest of the supporting cast does an excellent job.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays Bobby Seale, a founder of the Black Panther Party who was put on trial with the Seven. He does an excellent job at playing the disenfranchised Seale as he fights for his rights while being consistently mistreated. Mark Rylance plays the defense attorney William Kunstler. He also does a fantastic job in the movie.
Finally, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Richard Schultz, one of the federal prosecutors, and Frank Langella plays Judge Julius Hoffman. They both do a great job at playing the opposition to the Seven, especially Langella.
The cinematography is quite good, especially the lighting. There were many deliberate lighting choices made in this film to make sure that the audience can distinguish between scenes, specifically in the color temperature of individual scenes. It’s a small, but impactful technical detail.
The film also has great editing. It gets a little too quick and snappy at times, but it’s done so to get across specific feelings. For example, some of the riot scenes are edited at a faster tempo to get across how chaotic they were.
The score of the film is good. There are a few standout pieces, but it mostly blends into the background of most scenes. It works, but it’s not very memorable.
In general, the film is well structured. It follows a clear path throughout the trial, only diverging a few times to either show the inciting riots or other relevant events.
But at the end of the day, this is an Aaron Sorkin movie. Sorkin is a very talented writer and this film mostly shows that. The dialogue is fast, heavy and full of substance. But, if that isn’t your cup of tea, it can come across as overindulgent and bloated.
Generally, Sorkin does a very good job at making the dialogue work in this film, with a lot of help from the actors. The writing works incredibly well with the courtroom setting. Courtrooms and Sorkin were made for each other.
Where Sorkin falters is in the directing. For the record, this film is an improvement over “Molly’s Game,” which I liked quite a bit when it came out.
However, some of the direction doesn’t strike the way that it needs to. At times, the movie puts a little too much style into its sequences, which then clashes when it tries to present some more serious subject matter.
This isn’t discussing tone, which the movie balances quite well. It knows when to tell a joke and when to be serious. This is especially true as most of the humor of the film is pulled from the actual case.
What is being discussed is the essence of the film. At times, it’s a relevant piece of social commentary, providing insight into a time of civil unrest. But it feels like that isn’t being taken as seriously as it should be in comparison to other scenes in the movie. It’s a weird feeling that seems like it could be rectified if the movie took a slightly more conventional route or if it went more heavily into its stylish aspects.
For example, there is a sequence near the end that shows the main riot. It’s mostly presented in a conventional manner until it implements some slow-motion, inserts old footage and cuts to a different segment altogether. It becomes distracting at times, especially for what the film is trying to portray.
This is not to say that the film is bad. It’s just frustrating at times and not in the way that it wants to be. It wants the audience to be frustrated at the legal system, the bias of the prosecutors, the police’s brutality and the unfair treatment of individuals. It fuels this frustration well, but it inadvertently moves some of that frustration onto the film itself.
This is what ultimately holds the movie back from being better.
Overall, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a good courtroom drama with excellent performances, great writing and a relevant message. However, some of its direction and inconsistencies keep the movie from being one of the best courtroom films ever made.
It will be interesting to see what Aaron Sorkin does next. He continues to show that he’s a great writer, but his directing needs improvement.
We’ll see how he improves in due time and due process.