By Christian DiMartino
Aaron Sorkin has a magical gift when it comes to making things that seem boring really engaging. Take A Few Good Men, for example- the film that basically put him on the map back in 1992. The film is essentially a string of court room chatter and conversations, and yet the conversations are written, directed and acted with such rhythm and gusto; his characters and ideas fully realized and gripping. Not many screenwriters are as distinct as Sorkin, in that when you watch a film written by Sorkin, you know it’s very much his.
Sorkin managed to make the invention of Facebook compelling with The Social Network; he managed to take a novel about baseball statistics engaging and human with Moneyball; Steve Jobs was an interesting guy, but Sorkin managed to make not only Jobs interesting, but also the drama surrounding his computer’s interesting, with Steve Jobs. Each of these films should’ve bored us to tears, but they have just the right touch.
Sorkin has done it once again with The Trial of the Chicago 7. As someone with a lack of interest in not only history, but politics, The Trial of the Chicago 7 shouldn’t have been my thing. Turns out, it was totally my thing. A film that is not only relevant and inspiring, but also, hugely entertaining, fabulously written and crafted, and acted with a capital A.
The story is one you might be familiar with. If not, the details of it will sound familiar considering the recent climate that we find ourselves in. The film centers on the court trial of a group nicknamed “the Chicago 7,” a group who may or may not have incited a riot at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968. Sorkin, his second directorial effort following the excellent Molly’s Game, cuts back and forth between the court case, and the events leading up to the riot.
Said members of the group consist of Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis (Eddie Redmayne and Alex Sharp), who were essentially the leaders; Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin (Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong), the hippies of the group; David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch) and Bobby Seale (Yahya-Abdul Marwen II), the latter of which isn’t even a part of the group, he just got roped in with them because he’s a member of the Black Panther party. We see that from their perspective, they were just trying to lead a peaceful protest, but of course the police weren’t having it, and much of the film deals with the clash between the two forces.
The whole cast is excellent here. To my surprise, Redmayne might be the best of the 7, though Marwen II might also take that title (or Baron Cohen, dammit). As for the best performance overall, the two finest here are either Frank Langella or Mark Rylance. Langella stars as the judge, who is more than likely mentally incompetent, and pretty much has his mind made up about this case from the get-go. Rylance is the 7’s attorney, William Kuntsler, whose work is a little more subtle, but nonetheless brilliant and effective.
Sorkin is very much an actor’s writer/director. He basically writes such biting, strong material, and it’s up to his actors to deliver upon it. Usually, they do, and here, they do deliver, and with gusto. The rest of the cast, which includes Joseph Gordon Levitt and Michael Keaton, is aces, but it’s the material mixed with the acting that elevates it. Sorkin’s script is excellent here, in the way that it teaches an important history lesson but also in the way that the dialogue flows. For a subject so serious, it’s no small feat that Sorkin can include humor in the proceedings too, with it never feeling out of place.
For all its great writing and acting, not to mention the editing and the craftsmanship, what is perhaps most effective in The Trial of the Chicago 7 is how timely it is. Perhaps without having realized it (or maybe he totally realized it), Sorkin made a film about an event from the late 60’s, and yet it’s still an event that could very well occur today. It’s a story that not only happened and is more than real, but it’s one that could occur tomorrow, and has kind of already occurred in recent memory. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is ultimately a film about standing and fighting for what you believe in. Perhaps it sounds corny whenever it’s worded that way, and maybe some will find its final moments corny too. To my shock though, it came across as completely relevant and powerful. Netflix has had a lot of luck with Oscars lately, and with The Trial of the Chicago 7, and others, expect more luck to come.