Eerily relevant and sobering more than 50 years after the events on which it’s based, The Trial of the Chicago 7 masterfully chronicles a trying moment in U.S. history and sparks hope that justice can still prevail in the face of tyrannical government interference.
Ace screenwriter-turned-filmmaker Aaron Sorkin’s follow-up to Molly’s Game further proves his aplomb for courtroom dramas and snappy dialogue, and gets significant help from an astoundingly good ensemble.
Defendants Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong, HBO’s “Succession”), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp, How to Talk to Girls at Parties), John Froines (Danny Flaherty, The Meyerowitz Stories), and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins, Indignation) each feel like lived-in characters as they seek an innocent verdict for charges of conspiring to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
The same level of dedication extends to the depictions of their lawyers William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) and Leonard Weinglass (Ben Shenkman, Angels in America), district attorney Richard Shultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Black Panthers co-founder Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, HBO’s “Watchmen”), whose demands for separate counsel and a delayed trial frustratingly fall on the deaf ears of Judge Hoffman (Frank Langella, in top rat-bastard form).
Though Sorkin employs some degree of dramatic license during the trial and especially in its recesses, the amount of dialogue that’s lifted word for word from the court transcript heightens the situation’s intensity and makes the inflammatory, real-life statements by Judge Hoffman and the prosecution team all the more damning.
Working in tandem with these strengths is an intelligent structure rife with flashbacks to the DNC protests (rather than wholly a chronological approach), a decent amount of humor (largely from Cohen and Strong, as well as some unexpected sources) and an applause-worthy cameo by a universally beloved actor as the defense’s star witness.
It’s all so effective that, as with fact-based peers Apollo 13 and First Man, viewers can’t help but experience doubt despite watching a story with a historically established outcome — a rare magical sensation that cements its status as the year’s best film thus far.
Available to stream via Netflix starting Oct. 16