The Trial of the Chiago 7
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, Yahha Abdul Mateen II, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella, Michael Keaton, John Carroll Lynch, Ben Shenkman, Alex Sharp
Oscar winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is one of the few that can make a thriller out of people sitting in a room. In many ways his latest, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”, uses some of the same techniques that won him the Academy Award for writing “The Social Network”. The drama about seven protesters on trial for their actions in the late 60’s has themes and situations that resonate in todays political and social climate. Sorkin also brings together 2015 best actor rivals Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”) and Michael Keaton (“Birdman”). The weakest element of “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is Sorkin’s direction. Certainly an improvement from his disastrous debut “Molly’s Game”, and while this script is classic Sorkin, his work breathes far better under collaboration.
Abbie Hoffman (Cohen) testified that he wasn’t on trial for guns, violence, or actions, but ideas that he brought across state lines. Hoffman, founder of the Youth International Party or “Yippies”, along with his associate and friend Jerry Rubin (Strong) made up two of the defendants. Tom Hayden (Redmayne) is the most well versed of the accused, his association The National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam “the Mobe” strongly disagrees with the way Abbie and his group conduct themselves. Although to the biased Judge Julius Hoffman (Langella) everyone is guilty and no one is getting a fair trial. William Kunstler (Rylance) is defending the seven, with complete understanding that Nixon’s Attorney General will insure prosecutor Richard Schultz (Levitt) doesn’t lose.
Along with the writing and direction, the cast comes through superbly in portraying their characters.
“Rebels without a job” is how the new Attorney General John Mitchell (John Doman) refers to protesters. It’s impossible to ignore the similarities between President Nixon’s appointees and policies as it reflects on todays events. Sorkin leans into those similarities but never loses site of the message which is ultimately about lives lost. Sorkin seeks to educate and inform all the while entertaining us. Cohen’s particular brand of comedy is dialed down but never extinguished, as he plays the sarcastic Abbie Hoffman in one of his best on screen performances. However, it’s Langella’s hostile performance as the judge that boils the viewers blood.
Editor Alan Baumgarten (“Molly’s Game”, “American Hustle”) has a real task not only cutting the backstory of events into the trail as each person testifies, but assisting the audience in keeping track of the many characters and their affiliations. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a film that demands your attention, Sorkin is speeding through a trial that lasted over 180 days within two hours, so each scene is full of information. It’s also a dialogue driven thriller if you let yourself become engrossed with it. The “action” of the violent clash between protesters and police nearly equals the vitriol that bounces from different characters during different moments of the trail, including a stand out moment by long time character actor John Carroll Lynch.
Aaron Sorkin revives the art of riveting court room drama with The Trial of the Chicago 7.