Directed by Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7 follows the true story of multiple Anti-Vietnam war protestors and the trial for their part in the riots of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
What worked best
With his latest film, Aaron Sorkin finds a way to keep retain his style but also explore new territories. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is, for most of its runtime, a courtroom drama. It’s such a logical fit between the genre and the director that it feels apparent within the first 20 minutes.
As expected, the dialogue is snappy, the characters witty and the tension tight. More so than ever before, the situations for such tense moments feel perfectly suited. The constant back and forth in dialogues between the defendants and the judge are undoubtedly the highlight of the film.
The huge ensemble includes Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella, and a few more. But these four are undoubtedly center stage and each brings a great performance to the table.
Sorkin finds a way to make them feel relevant, if not complete characters. I felt I understood some more than the others, wishing I could have spent more time with others.
What really happened
In terms of the actual story, quite a bit has been dramatized for our pleasure with additional details that aren’t true to life. The ending has a scene which although doesn’t change the destination but adds a slight detour. It feels a bit overdramatic and something we would probably see in a Tarantino film with a change in history.
It’s a well-executed scene that brings catharsis and a sense of hopefulness to this awful period of time time. But it’s not what happened in reality and that might or might not work for some. I personally would have liked to feel just how the characters felt at that point in time.
The editing by Alan Baumgarten also deserves tremendous praise. He stitches recreated scenes from the film with real footage from the event to incredible effect.
We get real stills and moments during the recreated scenes in the film, reminding us what we were watching, although distressing, did happen. The film also jumps in time between the trial and proceedings, recreating events in flashbacks making exposition interesting.
What didn’t work
There are a few odd music choices, especially in the beginning, and a slightly rushed pace that does hold the movie back a bit. The pacing works for the first half but the film wraps up way too quickly. We see far fewer interactions between all characters for a case that ran for months.
The film could have done better with a longer runtime and some more time spent with the characters. I can sympathize with the fact that these aren’t exactly historical figures and knowing them personally was difficult. But this is where a writer shines, filling in the gaps, taking creative risks, and giving a more wholesome experience. I was left wanting a lot more.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 plays to Aaron Sorkin’s strengths combining a courtroom drama setting with his snappy writing very well. Some slightly overdramatic moments and a short runtime could hold it from being more impactful, but great performances from the cast and its gut-wrenching tension make it one of the best movies of 2020.