Review: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

Politics, legality, AND history? Pay close attention or you’ll be lost!

So far in 2020 I’ve reviewed more than my fair share of truly abysmal movies. Movies that were so bad, I’m still not sure how they were greenlit. I’m looking at you, Desperados (2020). By the way, check out my review for that movie, here. However, I’ve been lucky enough to review a handful of surprisingly stupendous movies this year that have helped wash the unsavoury taste of poor filmmaking from my mouth. Hi, The Invisible Man (2020)! By the way, check out my review for that movie, here. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) is not only a brilliantly-crafted movie, but undoubtedly the one most most worthy of accolades that I’ve seen this year. If we’re being honest though, The High Note (2020) deserves an Oscar for its stellar soundtrack alone. By the way, check out my review for that movie, here.

Credit: imdb.com / Netflix

Based on true events, The Trial of the Chicago 7 tells the story of The Chicago Seven, a group of anti-Vietnam war protesters who in 1969, were put on trial and charged with conspiracy and crossing state lines with the intention of inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Even before watching, I knew that this two hour-long movie was going to require my full and undivided attention. It’s written and directed by Aaron Sorkin who as a writer, is rather famous for his signature style and arsenal of well-versed tricks of the trade. Rest assured, there are plenty of well-used walk and talks. We’ll get more in-depth about how incredibly talented Sorkin is as a screenwriter in a minute, but I first just wanted to admit that this review was extremely difficult for me to write. Only because I had no notes! That’s how fully engaged I was while watching The Trial of the Chicago 7. Seriously, of the notes I was able to scribble down the few times I was capable of turning away from the screen, they’re mostly praise like, “I’m in awe of this movie,” or, “what an astonishing feat of filmmaking.” Yep. Two years into running this blog and my reviewing skills are still as sharp as ever. Here’s a challenge for you: First of all, see this movie because it’s phenomenal. Secondly, when you do watch it, see if anything has the power to break the hold that The Trial of the Chicago 7 will have over you. Trust me, nothing will.

What makes The Trial of the Chicago 7 so damn captivating is Sorkin’s impeccable screenwriting. It’s nothing short of masterful. Fast-paced and dripping with heartbreaking realism, Sorkin makes sure not to waste a second of this gripping drama on anything frivolous or unnecessary. The plot and its characters are established swiftly and with ease, and instantly you’re pulled into the story Sorkin so flawlessly weaves. What stunned me most about Sorkin’s fantastic writing is how real it felt. I truly believed I was watching a court case unfold in real time as though I were right there in the courtroom. And you couldn’t pay me to leave that courtroom. Not since Legally Blonde (2001) have I been so fully invested in a movie about a single court case. Events and dialogue flow so beautifully, inciting intrigue with every new development and twist the movie takes. I was only a half hour in and already was overloaded with curiosity as to how the movie was going to ultimately play out. Pair Sorkin’s succinct screenwriting with his slick, subtle direction and you have a movie that is impossible to resist becoming fully invested in. Really, 90 per cent of this movie takes place in a single courtroom and I was floored by how fully it was capable of keeping me both interested in the story, and on the edge of my seat. That right there is the power of excellent writing. As well as excellent performances. 

Starring an ensemble cast that includes everyone from Eddie Redmayne to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Trial of the Chicago 7 features one sensational performance after another. Sorkin cast this movie superbly and as a result, the dynamic among the principal cast is electrifying. Every cast member plays their part so well, creating lasting impressions even when given the briefest of moments. Each one delivers a powerful performance that only adds to the rising tensions, frustrations, and sense of helplessness that you feel throughout The Trial of the Chicago 7. There isn’t a single weak link among these wonderful actors. Even the amazing Michael Keaton shows up for an extended cameo!

The clear standout is Sacha Baron Cohen as outspoken activist, Abbie Hoffman. Wow, what a performance. Cohen is a remarkable actor whose ability to effortlessly shift into a variety of roles and span genres is criminally underrated. His performance is honestly Academy Award-worthy and definitely deserving of all the praise he’s been receiving for it. It’s transformative. Other scene-stealers are Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale, and Mark Rylance as William Kunstler. Both really pack the emotional punch of The Trial of the Chicago 7, delivering heartfelt, moving performances that only make you want to see more of them. Seriously, enough can’t be said about this ridiculously talented cast.

As I watched The Trial of the Chicago 7‘s heart-wrenching tale of police brutality, racial injustice, and gross abuse of the legal system unfold, I couldn’t help but be aware of the parallels to today’s current news cycle. Over 50 years later and this story is still painfully relevant. As if watching the pattern of disrespect, mistreatment, and abuse in the movie weren’t enough to make my blood boil, the knowledge that not much has changed in five decades made me physically disgusted. A timeless story of America’s flawed and biased legal system, this is the type of introspective and thought-provoking movie that should be shown in schools. Everyone should see this movie. It’s quite moving. That being said, it’s important to remember that this is much more of a dramatization of events rather than a documentary. I don’t doubt the amount of research and accuracy Sorkin put into the script, but something tells me The Trial of the Chicago 7 is very much told through a white lens. I feel like the movie didn’t give Bobby Seale or Fred Hampton, prominent members of the Black Panther Party, the attention they deserve. If the movie interests you at all, definitely do yourself a favour and do some research on your own just to get a full, comprehensive idea of what went down. I know I will.

Yet another example of Sorkin’s mastery over the drama genre, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a must-see movie. Its jaw-dropping how great this movie is while doing so little. God, Sorkin and this cast are incredible. Mesmerizing performances and exceptional writing…Who would have thought that was the recipe for making one of the year’s best movies?

Have you seen The Trial of the Chicago 7?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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