The Trial of the Chicago 7 Movie Review
The kind of movie that tries a little too hard to earn a lot of Oscars, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a well-written, entertaining courtroom procedural about the questionable prosecution of seven (eight?) protesters following violent riots preceding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago--it’s just not nearly as powerful or important as writer/director Aaron Sorkin thinks it is.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 boasts an impressive if not-quite-A-grade cast, including Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Frank Langella, and of course the talents of Sorkin (The Social Network, Moneyball).
It also boasts an air of confidence that it doesn’t entirely deserve. It plays like the kind of pedigree film of old, where even bit parts are played by recognizable faces, the characters all have important things to say, and the story ends with a standing ovation. The movie struts onto screen knowing it’s hot shit, reveling in its smarmy screenplay and fierce performances.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 deserves to be watched, but it’s no must-watch “gonna win a ton of awards” kind of production. The dialogue comes fast, furiously, and cleverly--this is a Sorkin film after all--and the cast is up to the task, turning the director’s words into accessible performances and entertaining soundbites that will easily win over mainstream audiences.
But as well-written as it is, Trial is lower tier Sorkin; the movie feels more straightforward, less ambitious than Sorkin’s more inspiring products. In turn, while Redmayne and Cohen and Strong and Rylance and the rest are enjoyable to watch, none are especially handed fire to play with. None of the characters are especially deep--we’re introduced to them after they’re put on trial, forcing us to like them and feel their plight in reverse, a cheat in many ways. The characters are the kind of liberals that annoy other liberals, like me; people I can respect in many ways but would never want to hang out with, let alone spend over two hours watching a movie about. Sorkin makes some major assumptions rather than working to earn our love and devotion.
Even if it’s not the powerhouse some of the buzz has hinted at, The Trial of the Chicago 7 has plenty of strengths. Unsurprisingly, Sorkin has turned a courtroom drama into something much more entertaining, a fast-paced, always-moving and always-evolving experience that knows how to engage even when it isn’t enthralling.
It tries a little too hard, yes, but that doesn’t mean it fails to land some legal punches.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.