The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Dept. of American "Exceptionalism"


The first seven and a half minutes of The Trial of the Chicago 7 are pure, dyed-in-the-wool Sorkin. Crisp. Clever. Compendious. We are introduced to all the major players in the movie by way of a relentlessly paced montage with rapid-fire, multi-layered, dialogue that subliminally sucks us into history, and into the story. By the time the title card lands, we already know everything we need to about Abbie Hoffman, and Tom Hayden, and Bobby Seale, and Jerry Rubin, and David Dellinger. Without any explicit exposition, we are primed for everything that’s about to happen in the next 121 minutes and 30 seconds. It is a glorious bit of character work that’s written, and shot, and edited to within an inch of its life. And it will leave you breathless.

There is an aggressive urgency to this movie. Landing on our screens just three weeks before the most important presidential election in recent history, it is a weighty and accomplished work that forces its audience to question the very nature of American democracy. At a time when protest seems to be the only way to catalyse change, this is a potent reminder of both its power and purpose.

“The whole world is watching,” goes the iconic anti-establishment chant from the 1960s. By the time you’re done with this movie, I promise that you will be moved to do more than just sit back and gape.

The Trial of the Chicago 7

We all know what happened in the summer of 1968, when the tensions of Vietnam and the assassinations of RFK and MLK, culminated in Chicago, in the shadow of the Democratic National Convention, where the iron fist of the federal government came down upon some 10,000 protestors. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the story of what happened after.

Richard Nixon was in the White House, and under the flimsy guise of law and order (sound familiar?), he and his petty Attorney General, John Mitchell, decided to make an example of the seven most prominent organisers of the protests. (The eighth defendant, Bobby Seale, seemed to be on trial for no other reason than being Black.)

This is a story that is so steeped in political parallels that it is ripe for our current moment. This is a story so full of stranger than fiction moments that the things that were left out speak as loudly as everything that was left in. With The Trial of the Chicago 7, Aaron Sorkin takes us back into the courtroom in order to show us an America that is constantly at war with the better angels of its nature.

The Trial of the Chicago 7

There isn’t a single weak link here. Every member of this company is on top form. Everyone from Sacha Baron Cohen and Eddie Redmayne, to Yahya Abdul-Mateen and Mark Rylance, perfectly channel the heartache, and violence, and paranoia of the time. These are characters that are constantly torn between ego and quixotism. Between their individual ideals and the greater good.

Watching them, it is clear how much they revel in the words they’ve been asked to say out loud. There is a silent simmering rage in each and every one of their performances, one that would be as timely and just as relevant irrespective of when this movie was released.

The Trial of the Chicago 7

We don’t talk about writers when we talk about movies. We praise actors. We celebrate directors. We even, from time to time, cry up the work of the composer. In fact, it is often the case that the less we notice about the writing, the better we think a movie is. “Show, don’t tell.” That’s the driving mantra of good cinema. Except maybe when it comes to Aaron Sorkin.

If I had to use one word to describe any of his works, whether on television or on the big screen, it would be “articulate.” By now, you should be familiar with his approach. Even if you’ve never actually seen The West Wing or Sports Night, The Social Network or Molly’s Game, his is a style that is so often referenced and emulated that it is immediately recognisable.

It is also perfect for this kind of story. The driving force of any Sorkin drama is conflict. And as a writer, he isn’t one that concerns himself with reality as much as he does the dialectics of human interaction. He loves big speeches. He lives for a good beat. He is the undisputed master of the rhetorical. So much so that it doesn’t matter that Mark Zuckerberg is nowhere nearly as charming an asshole as Sorkin would write him. Or that any White House could ever be quite as noble and well-meaning as Jed Bartlet’s.

It doesn’t matter because you’re ready and willing to buy into his misdirection. The foibles of the real world, you see, don’t quite come at us with such thrilling language. It isn’t nearly as adorned or as elaborate. There is very little showmanship in real life. And what Sorkin does is reimagine the world as a place where the most dangerous wars are those that involve ideas.

The Trial of the Chicago 7

This movie really is an incredibly well executed magic trick. To be able to take history, distract the audience from what really happened, and then create tension and suspense in order to keep them guessing, is nothing short of masterful.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is an absolute thrill ride. It is theatrical in the best possible way. It will make you angry. It will move you to action. It will make you feel like you too can, and should, change the world.

The Trial of the Chicago 7
129 minutes
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Eddie Redmayne, Noah Robbins, Mark Rylance, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong, and Michael Keaton

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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