The Trial Of The Chicago 7 Review
Aaron Sorkin is known as one of the best screenwriters working today - he is the man behind the words on A Few Good Men, The West Wing and The Social Network. His scripts are fast, tight and appeal to a large audience while never dumbing down the material. His directorial debut was 2017’s Molly’s Game, a perfectly fine, if a little bloated, real-life drama centred on former Olympic skier-come underground poker game organiser, Molly Bloom, who became a high-profile FBI target.
For his second directorial outing, Sorkin once again turns his gaze to real-life events, this time an infamous trial of The Chicago 7 - 8 men were originally on trial for conspiracy as well as inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The film largely centres on a few of these men while portraying the shocking and audacious trial.
The impressive ensemble cast features recent Emmy-winner Jeremy Strong as Jerry Ruben, Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden and John Carroll Lynch as David Dellinger, while Mark Rylance and Joseph Gordon-Levitt battle it out as the lawyers on either side. The cast, while impeccable, is so stacked it actually starts to work against The Trial of the Chicago 7 as it becomes a game of spotting familiar faces. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II shows up as Bobby Seale- co-founder of the Black Panthers - the 8th man who was severed from the trial and thus not part of the titled seven defendants, and while his scenes hold the most emotional value, his role seems rather underwhelming.
One of cinema's most fascinating rising stars, Kelvin Harrison Jr., shows up as Fred Hampton, chairman for the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party (and national party deputy chairman), soon to also be played by Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah. Hampton’s inclusion here feels like an indulgence, although not the good kind. The whole story of the men on trial, along with the men representing and accusing them, is simply too large to be told in two hours - a mini-series would have served Sorkin’s chosen subject much better as it would have allowed more room for nuance and for key story points to breathe more freely.
While Sorkin clearly knows his stuff behind the camera, The Trial Of The Chicago 7 feels bland and unsurprising. On one hand, it’s a fascinatingly retro film, both visually and narratively - it feels lifted straight out of 1996 with its snappy but boring editing and traditional courtroom drama narrative. Nothing about it is surprising or overly impressive, aside from the collection of well-known faces. This gives the film a worn-out quality that’s hard to shake, even when the narrative occasionally picks up.
The script, naturally written by Sorkin himself, is efficient and puts a lot of trust in the viewer. Nothing is watered down or over-explained and an awful lot of information is thrown your way from the moment it begins. Events are all heavily dramatised, but The Trial Of The Chicago 7’s biggest sin in the end is its lack of focus and perspective. The list of characters is so big, none of the more emotional and shocking moments land with the conviction or force they could have.
As an ensemble piece, the film is exceptional, and it laments Sorkin as an interesting director, who still has much to learn in terms of visual storytelling. While The Trial Of Chicago 7 is a fascinating story, it’s not one that can be done justice in 120-plus minutes - some of its points feel undercooked or don’t land at all, ultimately making this a disappointing, but handsome, film.
The Trial Of The Chicago 7 will be available to watch on Netflix from October 16.