Movie Review: The Trial of the Chicago 7

By Ben Lindner, Contributor
[Netflix; 2020]
Rating: 7/10

From the opening minutes of The Trial of the Chicago 7, a story of the aftermath of the riots at the Democratic National Convention in 1968, it is clear exactly what the film is trying to be: an acting showcase with a fast, exciting script. It’s a movie made for people, like myself, who enjoy pointing at the screen and saying, “Hey, isn’t that the guy from that thing?” In that sense, the movie works extremely well.

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The film is an ensemble piece, with each of the Chicago 7 playing a major role in addition to other prominent figures in the trial. The ensemble has a few standouts, most notably Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, who is a famous social activist and self-described hippie. Cohen is hilarious but also becomes the emotional core of the movie. The whole film revolves around him, and without his great performance, Chicago 7 would flop in its human elements. That being said, other strong performances include Frank Langella as Judge Hoffman, Mark Rylance as the 7’s lawyer, William Kunstler, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale.

Although Abdul-Mateen’s performance is excellent, his role is a major source of the film’s criticism. Because of this, Chicago 7 works very well as an exciting acting showcase, but does not meet its political goals. The only black character on trial, Bobby Seale, is only a tiny facet of the story, and the injustice Seale meets in the case because of his race is shown but only portrayed as a secondary struggle aside from the other activists on trial. The film also dilutes the progressive politics of several members of the Chicago 7, particularly those of Abbie Hoffman, to make them much more palatable, moderate heroes. Clearly, these choices only serve to weaken the strong political message that the film could achieve. 

It is worth noting that Chicago 7 is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin is famous for his fast, witty scripts from work such as The West Wing and The Social Network. He is just as strong here, once again showing himself to be a master of dialogue. It’s his fast-paced script that keeps the movie incredibly engaging from start to finish. The script also has to balance many different perspectives and it does so wonderfully, making each major character fleshed-out in very little screen time. Sorkin is also perfectly competent as a director, if not particularly special. 

The Trial of the Chicago 7, has a few missteps in its script and its message, but it is ultimately an exciting and well-acted story that keeps the audience glued to the screen for the whole two hours.

Watch the trailer here:

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