The Trial of the Chicago 7 is an incredibly poignant tale about the power of protesting and of the injustice people are subjected to for doing just that. A powerful historical courtroom drama that rocks you to your core and makes you question our justice system, laugh at the fallacy of men, and fear the possibility of ever having to face a judge yourself.
What was supposed to be a peaceful protest at the Democratic National Convention of 1968 turned violent as a tens of thousands of demonstrators come head-to-head with the full Chicago Police Force and the Chicago National Guard. Netflix’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 depicts the events of the protest-turned-riot and the trial following the altercation, which has gone down as one of the most notorious and ridiculous cases in US history.
Aaron Sorkin has created a master class level film here. No spoilers(pinky promise), but I want to spend a minute discussing the opening of the film. The first seven-and-a-half minutes, to be exact. No details, just the basics of writing. The basics so many films seem to forget. In these first minutes we get incredible introductions to not one, but ALL of our main characters! I’m not talking about we see them walking around and we recognize them from the trailer. I’m talking quick full scenes that help us get to KNOW them before throwing us into the thick of it. We get to see them all in their element, showing us what they believe in and what kind of people we can expect them to be. Not only that, but we get these seamless transitions from scene to scene. Character to character. Intro to intro.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: these are transitions a writer plans for, a director shoots, and an editor pieces together following the guide of both artists that preceded them in the process. This is almost always executed better when the writer IS the director. They write it and SEE it in their minds and don’t have to rely on another person translating their words just as they saw or following the blue print exactly as they imagined. That’s impossible, actually. But it’s not a concern when they’re the same person.
Sorkin wasn’t planning on being the director, at first. He’s been working on this for over 12 years; well before he put on his directors hat in 2017 with Molly’s Game. Crazy to think this was almost a Spielberg film! I love the guy but I’m thrilled that this worked out the way it did. Sorkin takes his own words and brings them to life beautifully. The film flows from scene to scene smoothly. The nature of the way the story’s told is such that could easily be jarring if done poorly but it’s not. It flows well and the pacing is perfect. This is not just a testament to great writing & directing but also editing and cinematography.
The editing by Alan Baumgarten(Molly’s Game, American Hustle) is so tight that not a second is wasted. Every moment strung together as if they were always meant to be so. It isn’t great in the way that people always say “You don’t even notice the cuts”. It’s great even though you do notice them. Almost because you notice them. They add something. An element of jolt that gives each sequence more life… because within each sequence there are moments you have to notice. The film is edited in such a way that it all builds upon itself and contributes to a greater whole.
Contributing to all of this is, of course, our Director of Photography is Phedon Papamichael(Ford v Ferrari, Nebraska) who brings his experience to this project and aids Sorkin in doing justice to this untold story!
In front of Papamichael’s lens we have our exceptional cast, a shoo-in for best ensemble. Everyone of them among the best in the game and yet none outshines the others. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a great performance full of subtlety that, likely, won’t get enough recognition. Frank Langella gives a career high performance. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II grabs your attention the first moment we see him(remember those first 7.5 minutes?). He delivers one of the best lines in the film and his performance is definitely worth discussing. Many are speculating the performance is Supporting Actor worthy and I don’t know if I agree but I don’t disagree either. It’s a weird year so anything is possible and we have many Oscar qualifying months ahead of us so we’ll have to see. Truth is, all of these actors deliver incredible performances. I didn’t even know Sacha Baron Cohen had something like this in him but I was seriously impressed.
I will say, I do have two way too early Oscar acting predictions though. Eddie Redmayne & Jeremy Strong. Both of these guys absolutely transformed into their characters. I didn’t even recognize Strong. Truly standout performances from these two and I am really hoping they get recognized for it. Would love to see other members getting recognition as well but these are at the top for me.
All in all, this is a truly impressive film that is sure to get Aaron Sorkin his first directing nomination AND his fourth writing nomination at the Academy Awards. No exaggeration when I say this is arguably the best film of the year thus far, though I am holding out hope for David Fincher’s Mank.
Another beautiful example of how corrupt the justice system is. It’s a film for now. It’s a film for then. It’s a film for history. I hope that many years from now we aren’t still seeing present truth in films like this. Only one of the sparks that brought about the change needed… as the whole world… sat… watching.