By Chris Crymes
Poster courtesy of Metaflix
Another month, another batch of Netflix originals. While some, myself included, tend to be critical of the streaming platform’s in-house releases, Netflix has been taking full advantage of COVID-19’s war of theaters with some of the best releases of the year. With excellent Netflix-distributed films like “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” and “The Devil All the Time” in recent memory, I was excited for Aaron Sorkin’s timely feature: “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” recounts the real trial of 7 people of various backgrounds for charges surrounding altercations of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois. This is an inspiring story of American’s who were put through infuriating injustice at the hands of their own government, a story of protests with peaceful intentions being turned into warzones and a story that needs to be told right now. I’m not entirely sure Sorkin was the person to tell this story, though.
Sorkin has an incredible talent for the written word. With “The Social Network,” his patented monologues delivered perfect gravity to what can only be called a real-life super villain origin. The script for “Steve Jobs” gives maybe the realest light of a man shrouded by technological myth with conversation. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” offers up some genuinely funny back and forths as well as some of the relevant social commentary of the year. I can praise the man’s literary merit all day, but Sorkin is far from perfect.
His scripts are dense with prose and his characters think of themselves almost as highly as their writer does. This works for darkly cynical depictions of moguls with dicey histories, but hits some stumbling blocks for the Chicago 7.
The script for “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is filled with Sorkin’s aforementioned monologues and zingers. Characters send verbal barbs across the courtroom to no end with everyone seemingly having a degree in snappy comebacks. While entertaining, this becomes an issue when the serious message of political activism is weighed down by literally every character with a speaking role having something to say on every single page. Both Sorkin’s writing and directing throughout this latest venture are just a little too preoccupied with making the events of the trial sharp and slick to realize what is actually being shown on screen. It’s as if Sorkin is worried his audience is going to get bored, so he either just keeps talking or makes a snappy editing choice. Take the film’s opening for instance.
We are presented with the central characters making serious plans for protests before the inciting incidents of the Democratic Convention of 1968. Quick, intercut sequences of characters talking in urgent tones, which is all well and good until you hear the oddly upbeat score working against the dialogue. As frustrating as instances like these were, they aren’t in the majority.
Some of these editing choices are very powerful, though. Like multiple uses of characters narrating previously unseen events of the riots and altercations with Chicago Police Department that combine some masterful acting on display with heart wrenching visuals. This back and forth more than keeps the film afloat, rescuing it from the drowning that is an overly long Aaron Sorkin written scene.
A pure positive of the film is the cast that’s filled to the brim with nothing but pure talent. Highlights include Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Mark Rylance. It’s blatantly obvious everyone on screen cares so much about the events being told, making each character palpable with life.
Almost every good aspect of “The Trial of the Chicago 7” has a grain of salt, but if you’re in the mood for maybe the best courtroom drama of the year that also has ties to today’s political landscape, give it a watch on Netflix tonight.