The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a blast. Aaron Sorkin’s depiction of a tragic and, sadly, always relevant time in history is grueling and heartbreaking — but also completely immersive and entertaining. With his second feature as a director, The West Wing creator has hit a grand slam with a movie both important and entertaining.
Sorkin’s ensemble drama is about the seven men charged with conspiracy. The charges followed the violent events of the 1968 Democratic Convention. The infamous peaceful protest turned violent when the police raised hell and started abusing protestors. Following the bloody event, the federal government wants to put civilians behind bars.
The trial is a sham in which the rights and lives of the accused are abused, no thanks to Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella). The powerful hippie Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), the leader of the Black Panthers Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the young clean-cut Democrat Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), and others — they all fight for their right to be heard.
Courtroom dramas are often dry affairs. Sorkin, being the writer of A Few Good Men, knows how to pack courtroom sequences with drama, comedy, and humanity, though. There’s not a dry or dull moment in that courtroom or the rest of the movie. Of course, the stakes are high and personal, too, so there’s plenty in the courtroom to keep our eyes glued to the screen. Ideas, not only people, are at risk. More than the men are on trial. It’s a story both intimate and epic.
This time around, Sorkin’s filmmaking is as lightning fast as his writing. The acclaimed writer’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game, was a little lethargic. The Trial of the Chicago 7, on the other hand, zips and flies. There’s an urgency to every scene, even the quiet ones. Every moment and line is vital. There is not a single redundant moment or shot in this film. It’s exceptionally tight filmmaking as well as storytelling. Visually, Sorkin has upped his game with a contrast between the dark and the light in the movie. The battle between good and evil is in the aesthetic, not only Sorkin’s wonderful dialogue.
Here’s a true story that Sorkin was born to tell. Once again, it’s exhilarating watching Sorkin characters express themselves in the most musical and meaningful of ways. The dialogue is beautiful and fun. It’s simply a joy for the ears, as well as suspenseful seeing characters in a fight that’s as mental as it is physical. It’s a war of words, which is Sorkin’s bread and butter.
Behind the camera, Sorkin creates a live-in period piece in which all the actors disappear. Sacha Baron Cohen, in particular, is beautiful as Abbie Hoffman. It’s not the performance that moves us but the character who does. As colorful as the writing and acting is, none of it calls attention to itself. Everything feels organic and real, as stylized as the dialogue is. It’s a remarkable balance Sorkin and the best of the best writers can pull off.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is one of, if not the, most emotional work of Sorkin’s career. It’s angering, inspiring, and touches on such a wide variety of fearful and optimistic emotions. It’s a movie made with nothing but feeling. Sorkin’s film is an emotional rollercoaster, fitting for the times and the story he’s telling.
As heartbreaking as the movie is, it’s hilarious, too. These characters are thrilling to watch and hang out with, especially when they’re in slightly lighter scenes. Sorkin makes us love these men on trial — their beliefs, their minds, and their souls — as much as he does. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is not only another lyrical feat for Sorkin but a cinematic one. Aaron Sorkin, the great filmmaker, has arrived.