Based on the 1968 trial of a group of men accused of inciting violence in protesting the Vietnam War during the Democratic Party Convention, this courtroom drama feels more relevant now than it did then.
At one point set to be directed by the likes of Steven Spielberg and later Paul Greengrass, it’s easy to see how the film could easily have become a historical award-baiting ‘epic’ but the resultant film is considerably more engaging. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin the film manages to touch on a plethora of zeitgeist issues while allowing a sense of commentary through its period setting.
Anxious not to waste too much time on introductions, Sorkin gives us a breakneck opening few minutes in which we’re presented with the key players in an almost Guy Ritchie like montage. It’s typically smart writing from the man who outlined Mark Zuckerberg’s entire manifesto in the opening scene of The Social Network.
In many ways this is pure Sorkin. The courtroom setting of the likes of A Few Good Men and his recent stage adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird, through to his penchant for liberal heroes standing up to the right-wing establishment, it’s all here. Furthermore, Sorkin has a wonderful ability to make all his characters be both idealists and realists at the same time. It’s unlikely such people actually exist but in Sorkin’s hands they are never anything less than believable and more importantly loveable. In a world of Donald Trump some of Sorkni’s characters feel like a much needed antidote.
What is often overlooked amongst all his rapid-fire dialogue is Sorkin’s ability to build an institution, in this case the legal system, and have you become part of the gallery. The Trial Of The Chicago 7’s based on true events lends itself to this perfectly. From the exasperated men in the room, the lawyers – even those on the wrong side – through to the pantomime judge and the comedic and straight defendants he weaves a tapestry of a flawed system. But a system that is held together by those desperate for change. If that isn’t a message for the here and now, what is?
Aided by a fantastic ensemble cast Sorkin clearly relishes this form of legal theatre. Sacha Baron Cohen and Succession’s Jeremy Strong are delightful as the liberal hippies, perfectly juxtaposed to Eddie Redmayne’s preppy social activist. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II rages and seethes in ways all too understandable in this twisted reflection of modern society fuelled by Frank Langella’s boo-inducing, clearly corrupt Judge Hoffman. All the while Joseph Gordon Levitt returns to form as the eye-rolling prosecutor baffled by the charade he’s expected to win. Meanwhile Mark Rylance steals much of the show as that typical Toby Zeigler of Sorkin characters, the smartest man in the room with the least power but the most sarcasm. From a filmmaking point of view it is the perfect chemistry concoction of characters and story coming together in a juggling act that never drops the ball.
A history lesson come reflection of the social-political world we currently inhabit. Just the right blend of jaw-dropping drama and satirical comedy. The Trial Of The Chicago 7 is Sorkin at his whip-smart, character-loving, world-building best.