Aaron Sorkin’s first foray into Netflix gives audiences a riveting courtroom drama that intricately weaves a smorgasbord of hard-hitting, uncomfortable truths. America’s muddled history with corruption, political bias, and racism plays out spectacularly in this cohesive and intelligent drama.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 follows the bizarre trial of several anti-war Vietnam protestors indicted on charges of conspiracy and inciting police riots at a Democratic convention in Chicago, 1968.
It’s a star-studded affair with names like Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, Jeremy Strong, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sacha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abdul-Mateen and even Michael Keaton squeezes in a brief but brilliant display. With Sorkin penning the script, it’s no surprise that the cast dish out stellar performances all-round.
The first few minutes of the film set up all the players. An SNL worthy wittily-dialogued-quick-cut montage shows each individual organisation head with convenient name prompts to establish who and what we’re looking at. It’s a good job too because if you’re unfamiliar with the history, it could be rather confusing as to what the hell is going on.
The film wisely utilises the courtroom testimonies and legal discussions to segue the necessary backgrounds of each defendant and to give continual context to what’s playing out on screen. As mentioned in the intro, Sorkin manages to keep everything neatly tied together where so many directors or writers may have collapsed under such a mountainous amount of information needing to be conveyed.
Even fifty years after the trial initially took place, the very same issues of social injustice, overseas wars, prejudice, and corruption, still feel prevalent in modern times just the same as they were then. It’s hard to watch Bobby Seale (leader of the Black Panthers) repeatedly appeal to represent himself in court in lieu of his lawyer’s presence, only for the judge to consistently deny him, hold him in contempt, and in one instance, have the court officers remove him, beat him, and then return to the courtroom, bound and gagged. It’s uncomfortable, it’s true and it’s a frightening reminder of today’s progression or lack thereof .
Judge Hoffman’s unrelenting prejudice towards the prosecution leads to many moments where I was simply stunned by his clear neglect of the law. President Nixon’s newly appointed General Attorney John Newton Mitchell set out to make an example of these free-thinking activists; manipulating five arduous months of litigation in the face of mounting public pressure, amidst the harrowing Vietnam war and ultimately, he got his wish, whether he liked it or not.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 presents one of history’s most shameful, complex, and troubling moments in a cohesive, intelligent, and engaging courtroom drama. Aaron Sorkin brings out the best in his cast, with every member commanding their presence at every opportunity. An excellent film and one of Netflix’s best originals to date.
4.5 out of 5
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