Review: The Trial of the Chicago 7 ‘delivers on every level’
- Credit: NICO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX © 2020
Film critic Paul Steward reviews The Trial of the Chicago 7, which is in cinemas now and arrives on streaming service Netflix on Friday.
Originally intended as a Steven Spielberg film over a decade ago, acclaimed scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin adopts the writer/director mantle for only the second time, with this timely retelling of the controversial 1969 federal trial of seven anti-Vietnam war protesters.
Following his successful directorial debut (2018’s Molly’s Game), Sorkin assembles a star-studded cast for this Netflix-funded production.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong star as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, co-founders of the Youth International Party, whilst Eddie Redmayne and Alex Sharp are Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis of the Students Democratic Society.
Together with David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), the group are charged with crossing state lines to incite riots during the 1968 democratic national convention.
Despite little evidence to support the charges, the fledgling Nixon administration pushes forward with the trial in an attempt to make an example of the young protesters.
Two other young students, Lee Weiner and John Froines, make up the seven, whilst Yahya Abdul-Mateen’s Black Panther leader Bobby Seale is inexplicably added to the group in an attempt to make them seem more threatening to a jury.
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With Mark Rylance as defence lawyer William Kunstler, facing off against Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s conflicted prosecutor Richard Schultz, and Frank Langella portraying the film’s chief antagonist Judge Julius Hoffman, the cast is a strong as any film this side of the Thin Red Line.
Despite the 1960s setting, the film has obvious contemporary relevance, particularly in the courts treatment of Seale, which makes the story all the more impactful.
Sorkin’s brilliant script somehow manages to turn this remarkable tale and its five-month long trial into a completely enthralling two-hour courtroom drama.
With an ensemble cast as strong as this, it almost seems churlish to single out individuals for praise, however Rylance captivates as the group’s incredulous defence attorney, and Baron Cohen, in a rare serious role, absolutely dazzles as the charismatic Abbie Hoffman. His tense exchanges with Langella’s despicable Judge crackle throughout the film.
Oscar season has been delayed until April, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this outstanding film feature heavily in the awards chat.
Crowd-pleasing and enraging in equal measure, The Trial of the Chicago 7 delivers on every level.
A stirring tale told by a masterful filmmaker. A real must see.
• The Trial of the Chicago 7 is in cinemas now and will be available on Netflix from Friday, October 16.