Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 9 minutes, Director – Aaron Sorkin
A group from different walks of life all find themselves on trial for their association with the 1968 protests around the Democratic National Convention
Aaron Sorkin has very much been known for his quickly walk and talk style of screenwriting. Packing in as much detail as possible in a short space of time. However, in a courtroom setting where individuals often take their time to get their point across and dwell on each one can he work as well? The answer is a resounding yes. A large proportion of his latest feature, The Trial Of The Chicago 7, initially written in 2007 for Steven Spielberg, takes place within the same courtroom – based on the trial that saw a number of figures from different backgrounds put on trial for their involvement with the 1968 protests amidst that year’s Democratic National Convention; sparked by opposition to the Vietnam War. Throughout Sorkin’s screenplay is detailed and considered, dwelling on the feelings and emotions of each figure as they get their time to shine and develop over the course of the piece. Once you’re in you’re likely in for the entire run-time.
The opening seven minutes rapidly introduces you to the protagonists that we see on trial. Giving them a brief, yet impactful, space of time to let the audience know who they are and what they stand for. Set to Daniel Pemberton’s energetic and racing score the montage breezes by, effectively establishing the tone and setting in concrete everything that is to come over the next two hours. Edited for further precision; something that continues throughout the entire film helping with the fine pacing. And then comes the trial.
The player’s in Sorkin’s recreation of the trial contain many a famous face, each one giving a stellar performance. A cast that includes the likes of Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Mark Rylance, Frank Langella and Joseph Gordon-Levitt; just to name a few. Each one understands their character, where they come from and what they want to represent. While it’s made out that not all of them have met before the trial – particularly Abdul-Mateen as Black Panthers co-founder Bobby Seale; a passionate performance filled with anger and emotion as his figure finds himself discriminated against within the court setting, and by Langella’s unfairly ruling judge.
It’s the performances that help to capture some of the emotion that the film holds. One particular scene has you in speechless, open-mouthed, shock and emotion at the point of a cruel reveal, the impact of which is pushed further by the top-form acting throughout. As Rylance and Ben Shenkman’s lawyers struggle to fight for all seven of their clients – Seale’s lawyer in hospital and not able to properly represent him – the defendants don’t always help themselves. Being accused of contempt of court on many occasions over the course of the over six month trial, and interrupting with jokes and jabs – especially Youth International Party founders Abbie Hoffman (Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong). There are conflicting beliefs as to what this trial is about. Is it to avoid going to prison for ten years? Is it about causing mayhem and creating a political point? Is it even a political trial at all, if there even is such a thing? “I’ve never been on trial for my thoughts before” claims one figure as they get to sit in the witness box in the hope of finally being able to tell their side of the story, possibly not even knowing themselves in what way it’ll come out.
Seemingly more politically involved figures, such as Hoffman and Rubin, and Redmayne and Alex Sharp’s student protest leaders, appear to get more screen-time than some of the other members of the trial. While most characters get a fair deal of development and opportunity to shine over the course of the film there are one or two who do seem to be pushed aside for a large deal of the feature. Not as if the film isn’t sure what to do with them, but more that there wasn’t much known about them when writing the screenplay or the other figures are already compelling enough in Sorkin’s view – and those that the film does focus on are undeniably compelling and engaging personalities.
As the piece develops and for those going through it the trial goes on ever longer the fast moving, detailed nature is consistently in place. Keeping the viewer in place throughout. Even when it briefly jumps to different settings and times it never looses its pace and focus, once again down to the films editing, and Sorkin’s precisely written screenplay. Almost everything comes together to create something fast, detailed, engaging and thoughtful. It knows what it wants to do and does it brilliantly forming one of the most well-written and performed films of the year. Things click together and form possibly one of the best films of the year that despite one or two figures being set aside is an Aaron Sorkin courtroom drama through and through. It works on a number of levels and because of that it’s great.
The Trial Of The Chicago 7 is fantastically written, overflowing with excellent performances from an all star cast to match. Yet, what truly brings everything together is the equally precise and effective editing, creating a fast-paced, engaging tone; entertaining the viewer and bringing them in to this impactful and thrilling drama.