The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the second big movie to come out in 2020 that has been seen as a real Oscar contender — the first being Tenet. Now unlike Tenet, The Trial of the Chicago 7 saw a much more comfortable release on Netflix. So if you want to catch this one, you can thankfully do it from the comfort of your own home. Now with that out of the way, it’s time to answer the big question here: does this movie live up to that Oscar hype? Well, for the most part yes. Allow me to explain.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is by no means a bad movie. As a matter of fact, it is a pretty solid movie — great even. Although not 100% historically accurate, Sorkin and team have retooled this infamous trial to be seen through the lens of the modern eye. This makes the film feel fiercely relevant in today’s heavy political climate. It also serves as a grim reminder of what happens when we let corruption and politics govern our courts. It’s a very frightening and very frustrating film at times as things tend to happen that any sane person would call foul on. But since the corruption was so potent, nothing could be done.
This movie really only has two major draw backs, which we will get to by the end of the review. For now, it’s better to discuss what this movie does right. For starters, its cast is nothing short of impeccable. I can’t think of a single actor in this movie that did even a remotely bad job. Mark Rylance was great as William Kunstler, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was great as Richard Schultz, Eddie Redman was awesome as Tom Hayden, and even Frank Langella who played a brilliantly irritating Julius Hoffman. But the real standout performances here comes from Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin, Sasha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, and Yahya Abdul Manteen II as Bobby Seale. With all sincerity, I can say that any of these three can and should be nominated for their roles here, especially Yahya, who even though was in the movie far less than everyone else, killed it.
Another fantastic element was the editing. The movie s fast paced and never once felt slow at all. A great compliment I can give is that I never once looked at my watch or my computer’s clock. They also did this thing where they intercut real photos and video of the Chicago Riots into the movie too. Gave the movie some style as well as intrigue. There are also scenes take place simultaneously next to each other and it’s awesome to watch as well as easy to follow. The presentation of the film is also nothing but stellar. The sets are lavish and full of personality and the same goes for the costumes worn by the actors and actresses. Just as Sorkin has done before, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is superb when it comes to attention to detail.
While I sing the movie’s praise from a mountain top, there are things that this movie does not do as well.
One of the major draw backs of this movie is that no one is walking and talking. This is a Sorkin movie, you’d think there’d be walking and talk- I’m just messing with you. This is Aaron Sorkin we’re talking, you bet your a** there’s walking and talking. No, but in all seriousness, one of the major drawbacks actually comes from the script. In terms of Aaron Sorkin’s line of work, this is probably his weakest in terms of his screenplay. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a relatively good screenplay with tons of sharp wit, strong dialogue, some pretty decent humor, and great pacing.
However, and this is where the second drawback comes into play, the film is too overdramatized at times. There are multiple scenes where characters give long winded speeches that feel like something about a 90s court room drama. Music swells during some of these moments as characters talk in ways that don’t feel normal. It feels like theatrics at its worst and over bearing at its best. It’s unfortunate that Sorkin decided to go this route, because the style he chose to present this movie with doesn’t work at times.
Now remember how I said this movie (at times) feels like a 90s court room drama. Well, with that outline, comes the tropes with it. This movie feels stupidly predictable at times, with scenes you can see coming from a mile away. Real people become characitures and start acting like one dimensional characters. And this isn’t helped by the fact that nearly half the seven aren’t given enough screen time for us to care about them. You will probably end up caring for about half of them — primarily the ones played by Eddie Redmane, Yahya Abdul Manteen II, Sasha Baron Cohen, and Jeremy Strong. And while it is true that there are no bad performances, some characters just act evil. Like comically evil. They bound and gag Bobby Seale like an animal in front of an entire court. A woman is nearly r**** in broad daylight during the Chicago Riots. Julius Hoffman also acts super under-qualified for the case, handing out contempt in court like it’s candy on halloween. The trial is handled like some bafoonish high school play. Policemen take off their badges and name tags so that the protestors can’t identify them. Detectives blatantly lie under oath. Even the government officials act like corrupt evil supervillains. It feels hokey and unrealistic.
Except these events really did occur. Government officials watching the case were that corrupt and evil, the judge was that under-qualified, a woman was almost r**** in broad daylight, policemen were taking off their badges and name tags so protestors couldn’t identify them, detectives actually lied under oath, and Bobby Seale was really bound and gagged. It’s rather odd as the more outlandish elements of the film are more historically accurate than the more grounded scenes. So while I am off put by these elements, they happened. I can’t be upset or dock this film a few points because of how they portrayed these events.
So with all that being said, how does The Trial of the Chicago 7 fair?
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Despite the film’s drawbacks, I still cannot recommend this movie enough. It is a very serious contender for the Oscars next year, but above all that trivial nonsense, this is a film we need right now. The problems and drawbacks can’t and don’t take away the message it has. It has a reason to be seen and it’s very prevalent, probably now more than ever. This is a very political movie, with a very clear stance on what it believes and has to say. So if you don’t agree with this film’s message or what it has to say, you will probably hate this. But even so, it still should be seen.