Sorkin’s a reliable screenwriter but lacks an imaginative cinematic eye as a director, and it shows in this uneven, and at times, stilted dramatisation of a key case in 20th-century US legal history.
Dir. Aaron Sorkin
2020 | USA | Drama/History | 129 mins | 2.39:1 | English
NC16 (Netflix rating) for language throughout, some violence, bloody images and drug use
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella
Plot: The story of 7 people on trial stemming from various charges surrounding the uprising at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois.
Awards: Nom. for 6 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Song
Subject Matter: Moderate – Legal, Politics, Justice
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal but uneven
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
A follow-up to Molly’s Game (2017), his decent but unspectacular feature debut as a director, The Trial of the Chicago 7 sees Aaron Sorkin dramatising history as he tackles the youth uprising at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago who were against the US’ involvement in the unpopular Vietnam War.
It’s a key and controversial case in 20th-century US legal history, and certainly important to bring it to the big screen (or for most audiences around the world, on Netflix).
With a promising ensemble cast that includes Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella (who’s superb as the infamous Judge Julius Hoffman) and Mark Rylance (arguably the finest of the lot as defendant lawyer William Kunstler), Sorkin gets effortless performances out of everyone.
“Do you have contempt for your government?”
“I’ll tell you, Mr. Schultz, it’s nothing compared to the contempt my government has for me.”
Sorkin’s a reliable screenwriter, but while his gift for rapid-fire dialogue is perhaps less evident here than in, say, Molly’s Game or The Social Network (2010), it is his liberal take on history, surely portrayed with some degree of creative license, that steers the film away from the desire to evoke historical accuracy (this despite his occasional use of archive material to complement the dramatised re-enactments). The result is a sleek historical fiction that is accessible, appealing and well-packaged.
My problem with The Trial of the Chicago 7, however, is its unevenness (there are some pacing issues especially in the first half), and the stilted depiction of the courtroom experience (where conversations feel contrived).
Sorkin also lacks the imaginative cinematic eye of a visionary director, where striking visuals, style and technique might combine to elevate the story and characters in unique ways. For much of the two-hour runtime, the film feels ordinary despite extraordinary historical circumstances.
Steven Spielberg expressed interest in directing the project all the way back in 2006—it would surely have been a different film under his hands.