In a time when America is facing all sorts of political shenanigans leading up to the 2020 presidential election, Aaron Sorkin’s new film couldn’t have arrived at a more suitable time. “The whole world is watching“, chant the rally-goers. The whole world is watching, indeed.
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is directed by the writer of “The Social Network”, Aaron Sorkin, and features a huge ensemble of a cast. Telling a dramatised account of the seven/eight who were charged in court for inducing riots and causing unrest during a political campaign, this courtroom drama details what these defendants went through in the fight against a war that wasn’t theirs.
Let’s take a time capsule back to the 60s. It was a period when America was still in the midst of the Vietnam War. U.S. President, Lyndon B. Johnson, had just dropped out from being reelected for a second full term and a new cabinet was on its way in. However, in the midst of this political shift was a cry. It was not one to call for arms, but rather, a petition against it.
The premise of the film itself skirts around the events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention during which several protests led up to a confrontation and eventual riot with the police. Subsequently, eight individuals were arrested and indicted in court for various counts of conspiracy and causing political unrest, giving rise to one of America’s most significant trials of that time.
The assembly of the cast is such a sight to see. Mark Rylance shines as the long-haired attorney representing the seven defendants; his struggle to maintain his cool in a courtroom where an incompetent and vile judge (excellently portrayed by Frank Langella) rules. Eddie Redmayne and Alex Sharp play Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis respectively, both figures who believe in making their statement around the lives who had been lost in the Vietnam War, namely the young ones. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, on the other hand, plays a prosecutor for the United States, having been summoned for the case of a lifetime.
Then, there’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II coming off his recent hot streak with HBO’s “Watchmen”, slipping into the role of Bobby Seale. The actual figure is notable for being the founder and leader of the Black Panther Party in the 60s, but his trial in court was not pretty. He had no lawyer. He was seemingly defenceless in court. For a trial called “The Chicago 7”, he was the eighth person on trial, not even part of the group. Abdul-Mateen perfectly encapsulates a man who had little to minimal involvement in the scene but was still tried on the basis of bias.
Nevertheless, the two actors that we thought stole the show were Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong as the leaders of the Youth International Party (aka Yippies). Yeah, they might probably feel like the least serious characters when they appear for the first time on screen but their narrative significance is evident. Throughout the film, we’re treated to comedic monologues from Cohen to a crowd, him being in his natural element (great success!).
Laughs do come when needed and the duo deliver. However, it is the ideological battle presented that gives more weight to what would have been conventional comedic relief. They’re hippies with a cause, to oversee the dismantling of the existing system with a dash of chaos. When juxtaposed alongside the more peaceful approach of Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis, their clash of heads come into view. It’s rare to see Borat chew into a dramatic role (the one other time we can probably think of is Tom Hooper’s “Les Mis”) but this is one fine example.
As we know, Aaron Sorkin is a talented scribe. He did not just get nominated for his retelling of a smudge in Facebook’s creation and bag an accolade from the Academy for no reason. Indeed, his talents are on full display here as well as he spins a narrative that intertwines the accounts of those involved in the trial along with the actual courtroom drama. His keen sense for building narrative tension and giving a little prick of the pin on the bubble is done several times throughout the film, allowing for havoc to break loose, both in the courtroom and on the grounds of the protests.
However, one thing to note is that this is Sorkin’s second directorial feature after his debut with 2017’s “Molly’s Game”, and perhaps this is where it requires a little more polishing. For the most part, the drama itself is perfectly written. Nevertheless, as much potential that the script had, Sorkin’s cinematic direction itself leaves less of an impact on the viewer. It’s not bad per se, but with a little more fine-tuning would have felt less of a machine, and more heartfelt.
In a season when a Western nation is divided over the state of their leadership, this film comes as a commentary on their political status. Riots. Social unrest. Radical stances. These have occurred in recent times, and the drama of the film is pertaining to such. At the time of their arrest, the 7/8 were definitely not in league with each other. Their fight was for a similar cause, but how they acted upon it, what their views were, radical or not, these were definitely relatable to today’s world in so many ways.
“The whole world is watching”. Yes. The whole world watches as we want what is best for our economies and political structures. The whole world watches as we want to see improvements and change for the better. Nevertheless, it’s a long journey, one that has to be done with an impartial sense of justice and morality. And that’s what this film attempts to convey. To what extent is everyone willing to fight for their country? To what extent should blood be shed both within and away from the nation? That is the struggle.
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a triumph on its own. It hit many of the right notes and although there could still be a little room for improvement, Sorkin’s narrative is an experience to soak up. Indeed, the motormouth dialogue and the stellar ensemble cast has enough to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Its riveting script has enough flavour to pack a fruity punch on the stands of a session. Order descends into chaos into order again. Such is the structure that leaves the viewer enthused throughout.
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is currently streaming on Netflix.