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Film Review: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

Film: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (IMDB)
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeremy Strong, Alex Sharp

Synopsis: The story of seven people on trial stemming from various charges surrounding the uprising at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois.



The Trial of the Chicago 7 is going to be the best ensemble cast of the year, that is for sure. Not only does it have such big names here such as Redmayne, Rylance and Cohen, but everyone takes an equal role and acts as an ensemble. It is incredibly hard to pick one person as the stand-out, and that is not to take away from their performances. Each actor pulls their weight without going overboard and taking away from each other. If I had to pick a favourite performance, I may go with Mark Rylance because of the type of role he has and how it unfolds. There are easily three or four performances that can get put forward for Oscars contention (Rylance, Cohen and Abdul-Mateen II in particular), and I would be okay with any of them making the list.

Aaron Sorkin is one of the greatest screenwriters working to this day, and you can tell why with his films. This may just be his tightest script yet, with every single moment having power and meaning behind it. For a film that is just over two-hours long, many writers or directors would have written it completely differently. For example, there is voice-over that is used with Sacha Baron Cohen’s character, Abbie, and it is told from what appears to be a comedy club. This should not work at all for the tone of this film, but the narration allows for the audience to know what the context of some scenes are without excessive footage or forced narration. The comedy club not only feels natural to the character of Abbie, but breaks up the heavy tones of the protest scenes.

There are so many sequences that will stay with me for a long time. I am not even referring to long court sequences or major plot points, but the smallest of details. There is one scene that cuts between the Chicago 7, particularly Eddie Redmayne’s Tom Hayden, talking about the court stand and the events that occurred in the protest. This montage is perfectly cut between the audio and visuals, with every moment adding a layer to the situation and moving the narrative alongside it. There is also one single shot in a protest sequence with Cohen’s Abbie and a girl in distress that says everything about his character without uttering a word, and it is incredibly impactful.

This story does not just focus on the Chicago 7 themselves, but another person who was wrongfully grouped into the court case in Bobby Seale (played by Abdul-Mateen II). This is the main storyline that speaks for today’s situation and the Black Lives Matter movement. When the trailers were shown, I was worried that it would become a white saviour story that we are used to seeing. This is a different matter altogether, as the entire Black Panthers group are behind their leader and are using their voices. The film is unafraid to show the systemic racism that existed in that court room, and particularly with the Judge and the government. There are some heartbreaking moments with Seale’s situation and this film made you angry for him and what he had to go through, exactly what it needed to do.

For a story that was set in 1969, the production does not go overboard on style and that is refreshing to see. There are aspects of the late 60s that are in there, particularly in the hippie group with Abbie, but it is not over-the-top or the focus on the story. Instead of feeling outdated and in the past, the film presents the story as if it is still relevant today. There are still problems in the government with freedom of speech or rights to protest. There is still systemic racism, especially in America, in today’s society. The messages of the story are still impactful today, so there is no need to fully take us back to 1969 and pretend that every issue got resolved.

I was skeptical about this film from the first trailer, and was not letting myself get within the hype that the film community was a part of with this film. I went into the cinema only expecting to like it. Safe to say, I should have more faith in Aaron Sorkin. This was powerful, this was technically spot on, and this is the sort of film that will be talked about for the rest of the year and rightfully so. This is easily the best film I have seen since lockdown began, even if it is too early to call it my Best Picture frontrunner.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Have you been lucky enough to catch The Trial of the Chicago 7 yet? Do you plan on watching it when it releases on October 16th? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section and let’s have a discussion.

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