By Staff Writer Joanne Park
Both written and directed by Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7 tells a compelling courtroom story that draws haunting parallels to our modern world today. Alongside the ensemble cast’s stunning performances, brisk dialogue, and memorable quips, combined with a unique editing style, The Trial of the Chicago 7 brings to the screen a compelling narrative of US history that was not so long ago.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is available to stream on Netflix.
The historical legal drama, set in the late 1960s, follows an infamous group of seven anti-Vietnam War protesters, the Chicago Seven, who are on trial after being charged with conspiracy and inciting riots. Though the primary setting is a courtroom, the film goes back and forth from the trial to actual riots and protest meetings, keeping the audience in the moment of the narrative as each event is addressed in court.
The story, rather than being merely told, is instead expressed through creative means such as witness testimonies, flashbacks, and snippets of speeches the protesters give. Additionally, the editing shines through at the peaks of action by incorporating black and white clips of the riots that were caught on tape in the actual events. The clips add to the emotional intensity that stands as a reminder of the historical realness portrayed in the film.
The star-studded cast includes Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.
Editing aside, this film would not be held together without its clever script. The rapid-fire back and forth of dialogue, a classic technique used by Sorkin that appears most notably in the TV show The West Wing, creates a brisk pace in the story, propelling the plot forward. The ensemble cast delivers each quip with passion and wit, creating an atmosphere of intelligence that the audience has to maintain a sharp focus to follow.
There is some clear dramatization of the trial and history for Hollywood purposes, as can be seen in Sorkin’s other critically acclaimed historical films and biopics such as The Social Network, A Few Good Men, and Steve Jobs, but it doesn’t distract from the intensity and emotion from the story, nor does it come off as overly tacky or cheap. It brings the film to a full circle that the audience can feel closure on, despite some discrepancies in accuracy.
With our modern political climate, this film could not have come at a better time.
A long, bitter history of injustice against Black people in the US exploded into a media frenzy after George Floyd’s murder in late May, and millions of Americans attended Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests calling for a change in the brutal manner Black people are being treated today, especially by law enforcement. The BLM protests, much like the anti-Vietnam War protests portrayed in the film, gained much traction in the media and led to long court trials.
Scenes of the late 1960s protests where protesters encountered tear gas, hand-to-hand violence, and other forms of aggression from law enforcement are indelibly similar to videos taken at recent BLM protests. This creates a strong parallel to the audience that even though many decades have passed, society still suffers from the same kind of turmoil.
The historic Chicago Seven were originally the Chicago Eight, but Bobby Seale was severed from the case after outbursts at the trial.
Paired with its well-crafted script and editing, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a powerful and intelligently phrased reminder that despite society’s many progressions, it still faces certain shortcomings when it comes to addressing the public voice. The two-hour legal drama, full of wit and societal relevance, successfully leaves the audience to reflect on what needs to change in the following years.
Cover image courtesy of Netflix