The Trial of the Chicago 7 Review – A Timely History Lesson

The Trial of the Chicago 7

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This quote from George Santayana is something Aaron Sorkin took to heart as he was creating his new film, The Trial of the Chicago 7. The political issues may be different (anti-Vietnam War protests as opposed to the unjust killing of black people) — but Sorkin’s imagery of police shooting tear gas towards outraged protestors seems strangely familiar to what’s happening nowadays.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 follows the 1969 trial of eight men accused of conspiring to incite a riot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. These eight men are “Yippies” Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), Students for Democratic Society founder Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), pacifist David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), John Froines (Daniel Flaherty), Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp).

Aaron Sorkin has been trying to create a film adaptation of the Chicago 7 for over a decade now, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Using this one intimate event to explore the social unrest of the 1960s scarily parallels what’s happening today. The script, performances, and drama are brim with Sorkin’s panache for deft conversations, but the ridiculousness of the trial is not lost on Sorkin either. The humor plays a big part in the film, almost to the point of it being satirical.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 - Sacha Baron Cohen, Danny Flaherty, Eddie Redmayne, Jeremy Strong, and Mark Rylance

Yet his writing is so distinct that he’s become synonymous with smart and entertaining dialogue. Through his words, everyone in this dynamic cast gets to showcase their acting ability to the fullest extent. The biggest surprise is Sacha Baron Cohen, who is delightful as Abbie Hoffman. His energetic performance and his exchange with Jeremy Strong steals the show every time. Not to be outdone, Eddie Redmayne is also very solid as Tom Hayden. Yet it’s Mark Rylance, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Frank Langella that elevates the film into award status. Their performances are all award-worthy, and it’s going to be difficult to choose which actor to nominate.

Yet Sorkin uses his cast to passionately showcase that America is not the land of the free. There are so many times that you’ll shake your head at the failure of the American justice system. This is where The Trial of the Chicago 7 mostly plays to Sorkin’s strengths as a writer and sees him making great strides as a director following his debut film, Molly’s Game.

Like Molly’s Game before it, Sorkin’s direction goes at a breathless pace with equally rapid-fire editing by Alan Baumgarten. The adaptation could’ve easily been a stage play. After all, stage plays consist of only a handful of locations. Despite being set mostly in the courtroom and the seven’s collective office, the film’s often thrilling precise cuts intertwining to the characters’ words are what keeps The Trial of the Chicago 7 from a stage play.

Overall, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a scarily relevant film that’s anchored by Sorkin’s script and the strong performances of his powerful cast. History has proven that the case of the Chicago 7 was little more than a show trial, enacted as a way to suppress the freedoms of those fighting for social justice. Sorkin reveals the true nature of the trial — an unwavering abandonment of the core principles of justice and freedom. Sorkin may have taken over a decade to make this film, but he made it at just the right time. After all, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Rating: 4.5/5 atoms

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is now playing in select theaters and hits Netflix on October 16.

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