Review: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Score: A-

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Running Time: 128 Minutes

Rated: R

"I've never been on trial for my thoughts before."

Initially written in 2007, Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a film that has seen its fair share of hardships. Shelved by way of the WGA strike, budget concerns, and, most recently, the COVID global pandemic, the politically charged film seems destined for this place in time.

An impressive cast of incredible talent and a smart and quick-paced script allows the film to excel, most notably by its attention to detail. Offering up deep, complex, and relatable characters that are equally annoying and inspiring, the story gives viewers a glimpse at the abuse that exists when a group of people work to question the establishment.

In typical Sorkin fashion, The Trail of the Chicago 7 is sharp and judicious, painting a scene that is as horrifying as it is amusing. The blend of violence and witty, intelligent banter allows the film to generate its own personality as it works to convey a moment of injustice at the hands of our nation's court. Interjecting humor amidst the seriousness of a federal courtroom personifies the situation and deepens the perceived commitment of those standing trial. It's difficult to take things seriously when those accused do not.

Based on actual accounts, the story primarily centers on the trial of seven men charged with conspiracy and inciting to riot related to the anti-Vietnam War and countercultural protests in Chicago, Illinois, at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Sorkin keeps much of the film's events to the courtroom, though he does blend his shots with archival footage, a decision that works surprisingly well in conveying and controlling the narrative.

Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carrol Lynch, and Alex Sharp star as the accused, with Mark Rylance's William Kunstler serving as their primary defense attorney. The group performs well together, creating enough individuality while still cohesively existing, even when their characters don't see eye to eye. It's surprising, given the fact that they spend nearly every scene together. That's without including Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Richard Schultz, the leading prosecutor sitting on the other side of the aisle.

Leave it to Sorkin to craft something that allows them all to have their moment while still serving the larger purpose. It's a complicated formula, helped tremendously by the audacious and amusing dialogue that is featured throughout.

At times, The Trail of the Chicago 7 falls victim to its own doing as it works hard to complicate the story to keep the audience invested. In 2007 such a move was likely necessary.; however, given the change of culture over the last decade, the move appears excessive. Though easily overlooked, the gimmicks aren't required; the story is cinematic in its own right.

As a result, the film's visual conversion is as frustrating as it is understandable, especially given the story's primary context. Thankfully the performances embrace the moment as Cohen and Strong offer up career-best turns, impeccably depicting the time as they cry foul on the situation in the only way they know how - loud and obnoxiously.

*This film is being released theatrically before premiere globally on Netflix on October 16.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.