“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. It stars Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mark Rylance, Jeremy Strong, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and John Caroll Lynch. It depicts the trial of 1968 in which seven protesters are facing charges for suspicion of conspiracy and more.
It’s becoming the norm to view films representing social injustices, racism or discrimination and to describe them as a “timely” or “relevant” film. But to our misfortune, that’s our current reality. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, director Aaron Sorkin said the film had been in the making for 14 years. The election of 2016, plus the hateful rhetoric in speeches Trump was conducting, was the extra necessary push to move forward with the film, according to Sorkin.
The film begins with a series of quick-edited shots among the seven individuals carrying a conversation regarding their plans. With everyone in a different location, this introductory sequence lays out the range of ideologies, personalities and overall plans when they attend the Democatric National Convention. Then we’re introduced to Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he’s hired by the Nixon Justice Department to prosecute.
In the courtroom, the assembled cast is gathered to begin the trial that’ll last seven months. As the trial progresses, there’s a series of flashbacks leading up to the day of their arrest. This entire cast is remarkable! They all believably convey a variation of emotions that I’m not soon to forget. But there were some standouts worth acknowledging. Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman depicts this character with passion and confidence, while leaving some room for levity. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale is an unforgettable performance. His frustration of not having a legal representative during this trial is arduous to witness, in addition to his constant persistence to cross-examine witnesses, only to be turned down time and time again. Although Mateen isn’t in the entire film, one of the most memorable scenes of this entire year involves his character. A scene that shocked, infuriated and left me attempting to find logical reasoning for treating a human being in this manner. But the strongest performance is by Mark Rylance as William Kunstler, the defense counsel. Rylance brings a calm, subtle approach to his character while allowing moments of frustration and desperation to manifest. A brief hats off to Frank Langella as Julius Hoffman (the judge), whom I wholeheartedly disliked a great deal within a few minutes of his presence.
Inevitably the tension between the men reaches its peak when Abbie Hoffman and Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) give their honest thoughts of each other. Since Tom is the most conservative of the defendants, he often disagrees on how the others should express their frustrations and their ideologies. Ultimately, the message of learning to coexist for the benefit of the cause triumphs, becoming one of my favorite sequences of this film.
Because it takes time to develop the characters, as well as laying out the story details, it succeeds in earning its crowd pleasing moments. That last scene is another moment I’ll never forget. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” will entice audiences with its clever script, incredible cast and relevant story — easily one of the best films of 2020.
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is now streaming on Netflix. Follow all the Shuffle shenanigans on Twitter and Instagram.
Featured image credit: Niko Tavernise/Netflix
Rosa is a Rotten Tomatoes certified film critic who’s passionate about advocating for Latinx and female representation. She’s the co-founder and co-host of the podcast Latinx Lens, which is focused on representation and contribution of the Latinx community in Television and Film industry. She’s the assistant editor of ITOL (In Their Own League), a site and podcast dedicated to highlight women in the industry. She’s proud member of HCA (Hollywood Critics Association), LEJA (Latino Entertainment Journalists Association), OAFFC (Online Association of Female Film Critics). She’s a coffee addict that unapologetically loves pineapple on her pizza.