The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) – Netflix Movie Review

 

Gripping, Intense & Incredibly Timely

We live in a world of extremes. From extreme political ideologies split between the left and right to extreme console wars as people fight over Playstation and Xbox, these intense rivalries have infiltrated every part of our culture. While most are verbal matches waged over the internet, lately we’ve seen this spill over into the streets.

From mass protests about face masks and Brexit to more violent clashes in the US over racial equality, these extremes are reaching a point of seemingly no return. It’s fitting then that The Trial Of The Chicago 7 is released smack bang in the midst of all this simmering tension worldwide.

In its simplest form, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a simple courtroom drama depicting the real-life case that gripped America back in the 1960’s.

The Vietnam War is in full swing, the people are starting to rebel against the Government and numerous assassinations to big figureheads at the time (Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the Kennedy Brothers to name a few) do little to quell the heat rising in the streets. By 1968, that heat has become toxic and something had to give.

And that something came in the form of violent clashes between police and protestors in the foreground of a Convention Center debating the Vietnam War. This was later known as the Battle of Michigan Avenue – and the site for 8 men to be made an example of.

Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, John Froines, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, and Lee Weiner were indicted under the newly-passed Civil Rights Act of 1968, and thus our story begins.

Written and Directed by Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7 weaves all the usual Sorkin hallmarks into this screenplay. The snappy cinematography, wonderful editing and fragments of archival footage from the time work perfectly to paint a picture of exactly what took place at these riots.

Rather than beginning the movie with these riots, they’re instead echoed across the run-time until the climactic final act where a bigger picture is shown of what really happened. Instead, the movie begins with a simple montage depicting the political climate of the time.

Most of the movie relies heavily on dialogue and the talented cast at the helm of this one are more than up to the task of delivering. Whether it be Frank Langella’s venomous rapport as the contemptuous Judge Julius Hoffman or Sacha Baron Cohen’s incredible performance as Abbie Hoffman, every single person brings their A-game to this one.

If the monologue from A Few Good Men (ironically also written by Aaron Sorkin) gave you goosebumps – this movie takes glimmers of that brilliance and sprinkles it across various different moments in the movie.

Hearing William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) losing his temper in court or Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) standing up to give his goosebump-inducing final lines are perfect examples of the script glimmering on-screen.

Much like 12 Angry Men and When They See Us, partly the reason Chicago 7 works as well as it does is thanks to its relevance today. The peaceful protests turning violent echo what we’re seeing at the moment, the crooked courtroom scenes feel eerily similar to these big companies getting away scot-free and all of this is typified through the most relevant line in the entire film “The Whole World Is Watching.”

And the whole world should be watching this movie. Not only is it politically stirring, it’s a damn fine film in its own right. Given the fact most of this takes place inside a courtroom, there’s a constant buzz and energy emanating in this one that keeps things dancing on a knife-edge of tension across the movie.

That’s to say nothing of the soundtrack either, which is masterfully scored by Daniel Pemberton (who also composed the incredible Into The Spiderverse) to really lean into the tension or drama of the scene.

The pulsating rock while the hill riots are about to take place (aptly titled “Take The Hill (Hear My Screams)”) crescendos beautifully into a brief bite of silence before kicking into action. It’s a tiny inclusion but one that shows the sheer power of the music in this movie.

There’s a masterful tonal balance here between comedy, drama, shock, suspense, tension and action that make The Trial of the Chicago 7 one of Aaron Sorkin’s finest Directorial performances to date. This is quite simply a stunning film and worth every minute of your time.


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