With stellar work in front of and behind the camera, The Trial of the Chicago 7 leaves you dumbfounded, enraged, transfixed, and moved.
Writer-Director Aaron Sorkin recounts the infamous chapter of American history that took place at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, wherein the titular individuals protested the Vietnam War, and were charged with inciting riots as a result. Needless to say, my brief description of the event does not do it justice. As the title implies, the film’s primary focus is on the long, arduous, and frustrating trial that followed and it is in the courtroom that we get to witness multiple excellent performances. Of those, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Mark Rylance, and Frank Langella far outclass the other performers, presenting fully-realised characters whom I instantly picture when reminiscing over this fine film.
This is in large part thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s sure hand behind the camera and a beautiful (though at times sentimental to a fault) score by Daniel Pemberton. At the film’s forefront is the dialogue – a word mythically synonymous with Sorkin. For those who find his trademark dialogue, which he himself describes as music, to be overwhelming, the combination of Sorkin and courtroom drama may be off-putting (I myself must admit that I found his script for Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs quite dull).
Thankfully, Sorkin delivers arresting exchanges that range from heartbreaking to unexpectedly chuckle-worthy, all in service of a plot that is constructed with tactical precision. By interspersing scenes immediately before or during the riots in question, we witness two plots unfold in concert with and complementing one another. A lesser filmmaker may have chosen to tell the story in purely chronological order – essentially creating two ‘halves’ of the story – which could have yielded a less cohesive end result. Yet, Sorkin not only wisely avoids this, he expertly interweaves the two timelines with editing, pacing, and the aforementioned script.
Although occasionally threatening to split at the seams with an abundance of ‘name- jargon’, the film certainly isn’t suitable for casual watching. For example, the initial five to ten minutes are essentially a rapid-fire stream of information. While crucial, it is delivered in such high concentration that one wonders whether this dizzying introduction is representative of the entire runtime. The plot also takes a brief (though again, necessary) detour which, while on one hand is a welcome change, does ever-so-slightly affect the film’s pace.
However, these minuscule points of critique are completely justified, and they are overshadowed by the incredible film they’re in, and ultimately serve to culminate in a finale that is at once inspiring, heartbreaking, stirring, and dare I say it, tear-inducing. This is one of those landmark moments in cinema that we are implored to witness for ourselves, as Sorkin achieves everything he set out to and then some more. Educational, timely, spectacularly acted, and wonderfully written, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is an explosive achievement in historical filmmaking.
Illustration Credits: Isobel Williams