Thank you to Netflix for allowing me to watch and review this movie!
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Writer(s): Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abdul Mateen II, Mark Rylance
Synopsis: The story of 7 people on trial stemming from various charges surrounding the uprising at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois.
The Democratic National Convention of 1968 was an important one. Not just because of who was nominated and who was not, but because of the situations that surrounded the convention as a whole. This time in history has so much weight to it, that my senior year American History from 1865-Now course spent 3 months covering the ’68 DNC alone. So this movie piqued my interest from the day it was announced. I was excited to watch a film take place about such a monumental moment in history, and knowing it was going to cover the protests side of things was even more exhillerating.
Because going into this, I knew about the protests. I knew about Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Reuben. I knew that the Yippies nominated an actual pig, Pigasus, to be President. I knew they threatened to put LSD into the main water supply in Chicago. And finally, I knew they were all a bunch of fast-talking, pot-smoking, say what is on their mind individuals. So, who better to bring this story to life on screen than Aaron Sorkin. Someone who thrives on political discourse and fast-talking individuals with a lot to say.
But with all I knew coming into the movie, it is what I didn’t know that managed to absolutely floor me in this film. Sorkin is able to bring to life so many issues with society and the structure of a time that was over 50 years ago, that we still see today. He never managed to shove your face in the message and he never once forcibly tried to tie in the 1968 story with the story of today. If there are people connecting this movie with the times of today, they are doing so purely because of how similar certain situations are. Aaron Sorkin pinpoints on one moment in history, but of the Sorkin scripts I have watched on screen, this is the first time I have ever been able to see him convey a message so relevant to all of history.
This also might be the funniest Aaron Sorkin has ever been, giving his actors quips and one-liners that work all so well throughout. And even though the one moment Sorkin manages to lockdown may be the trial that these 8 men had to face, we quickly find out this movie is more about why they are on trial rather than what they did to get on trial in the first place. You then can start to understand this isn’t a courtroom movie, but a protest film about rising up against the people deemed to keep us safe. The script is so tightly bound it would be hard to miss the point Sorkin is trying to convey. Some absolutely incredible editing will show that this film is about protests, and in and of itself is a protest to the way of life we are still living.
And Sorkin does this in a way that could have fallen flat but works so well. He manages to tie in numerous scenes of the protests and of the riots in with the Trial itself. There is no “callback” or moment that doesn’t work, as the pacing and flow of the movie don’t skip a beat, even when there is a flashback to the protests. There are moments of quick cuts and changes that don’t only keep you entertained but informed on the overlying situation at hand.
But the best thing about Sorkin’s script, and I know I have praised it a ton, but the film never makes parallels to today’s society. It never once shows images or videos of protests today, Trump, or anything regarding the time we live in. You can, and should, find the parallels between the film and today’s society, but it is never laid out for you. For me, that is what makes the script for this movie so good, and so scary at the same time. You make the parallels, because that is what you are accustomed to, and after the recent Breonna Taylor news, the message of this film rings ever so louder.
This film wouldn’t have worked as well however if Aaron Sorkin didn’t bring his a-game to the directing side of this as well. The Trial of the Chicago 7 proves Sorkin to be a formidable director in today’s Hollywood. Technically this film was a spectacle, with incredible ( and should be award-winning) editing and a score that fits so well with the time. The way the camera flows and the ways the scenes move is seamless and so airtight. The film plays out like a stage play and every single actor is given a moment to show their stuff to the world. That sort of style of filmmaking doesn’t always work, but it seems to work pretty well whenever Sorkin is at the helm.
And that is probably what probably brought most people to this movie was the cast, and man oh man did they all deliver. This movie is an acting spectacle as each member of the cast from Sacha Baron Cohen, to Yahya Abdul Mateen II, to Frank Langella, to Eddie Redmayne, to Mark Rylance, to even Michael Keaton (who seemed to be playing an extended cameo), all gave just incredible and knockout performances. Ensemble awards are going to eat this movie alive because I don’t think another film will be able to bring this high caliber of acting across the board. I cannot think of a recent movie that had this type of caliber acting without one let down. Each actor was able to perform with the same sense of brevity we are expected to see from a Sorkin movie. They all had nuance while also being electrifying in their actions and speech.
The performances are electrifying across the board. Langella is terrifying as Judge Hoffman, in a role that will go down as one of the best villains of the entire year. Eddie Redmayne delivers better than we have ever seen from him. A man who is trying to do the right thing in every situation, and realizes that won’t always play. Mark Rylance gave me chills as a lawyer who wants to uphold the law to the best of his abilities. He has a scene with Redmayne that might be one of the best scenes of the entire year. Rylance is on from the go and doesn’t let up. Yahya Abdul Mateen II and Sacha Baron Cohen gave two powerful performances that really stood out in this movie.
For Yahya, coming on the heels of his much deserved Emmy win for Watchmen, he plays Bobby Seale, leader of the Black Panther Party, just as perfectly as you could. Seale was in Chicago for a short amount of time but was tied in with the rest of the “Chicago 7” because he was who he was. Yahya was like a balloon in this movie being pumped up by Judge Hoffman until he finally exploded, and when he did it was chilling. I had chills come over me during a certain scene of his, and outside of the movie itself, I could tell we are witnessing what will be one of the best actors of this decade.
And then you have Sacha Baron Cohen playing Abbie Hoffman. When I found out he was getting this role, with this script, I knew this was going to be something to watch out for, and boy oh boy was I right. Sacha Baron Cohen brings in some sense of suave and charismatic charm to the role that managed to work so well. But he also brings some honesty and truthfulness as you can tell this is something important for Hoffman to be able to do.
A drug-induced “Yippie” that happened to be much smarter than people made him out to be, seemed to be the person this film began to gravitate towards more throughout the movie. He starts off the film with a snappy remark, but throughout the movie, you can see him grow into the voice of the protest. He is the one who, in the beginning at least, is looking to incite situations, and winds up being the one who takes the stand. He also manages to be the one who practically narrates the film through stand up routines given at college campuses. I personally think he gets the best lines of anyone, and if I had to make my bet for one person from this movie who should be nominated for an Oscar, I would say it should be him, as he proves to really be one of the best actors working.
Maybe I am putting too much personal bias into this because of my love for the time period as well as my love for the movie, but the fact of the matter is that this is one of the years best movies… period. Top to bottom, this film manages to convey so many thematic and important elements that need to be seen. It is electric and entertaining, and a little under two hours so you don’t feel as though you are trapped for too long. This is one of those movies I think everyone needs to see. This movie captures this moment in the best way possible, and Sorkin proves himself to be an extremely well-versed filmmaker.
Final: The Trial Of The Chicago 7 perfectly captures the American Justice System. A tight script from Sorkin with a lot to say, that shows how the system that is to keep us safe, might be the one we also should fear the most. The editing stands out as an explosion being let loose on the system of then and now. An acting showcase that is spearheaded by Sacha Baron Cohen and Yahya Abdul Mateen II as they shine in one of the most important and best films of the year.
Shoutout my girl @kenzvanunu for not only SORKIN SEASON, but correctly guessing my score and being amazing as well.
Awards Prospects: Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Screenplay, Editing, Score, Song
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.