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If you have ever heard the lines “You can’t handle the truth,” “If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you would have invented Facebook” or “He gets on base,” then congratulations you are aware of the god of super silly speeches and nerd words: Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin has an impressive filmography ranging from TV to film to dramatic theater that are all varying testaments to how Sorkin may just be one of the greatest script writers of all time. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” which is also written by him will not go down in this legacy as a positive. “Trial of the Chicago 7” follows the trial of the seven men who were charged for leading protests and obstructions in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention in 1968.
Writer/Director Sorkin’s work is nothing short of absolute poetry. He has explicitly stated in interviews that he loves the way words sound and that he tries to imitate the musical back and forth sounds of conversation as if it was a play. The opening scene of “The Social Network” is a perfect example of Sorkin’s technical mastery as it comprises 10 minutes of Mark Zuckerberg making you, specifically you, mad at him for being a cocky nerd as he breaks up with his girlfriend, Erica Albright. “Trial of the Chicago 7” is not the Sorkin masterpiece that it could have been. I do not think it was a bad movie, but I do think there were some glaring errors with the overall structure and deliverance of the movie.
I briefly want to talk about a lot of the things that made this movie effective, because there is quite a lot, despite my criticisms. The costumes and casting were impressive. I do not just mean they made a good choice picking Sacha Baron Cohen; I mean Baron Cohen actually looks like the real Abbie Hoffman for who he was based, and it just so happened that Baron Cohen gave a good performance in the process. The costumes and hairstyling are pretty good, and I also think the sets and set designs were an important part of the world building that helped to showcase the 60s well.
This movie has some rough pacing issues, a couple characters are frustrating but not in the way they intend and I had virtually no empathy for any characters for any reason other than I guess I hope they do not go to jail. Keep in mind this is all based on entirely real events, so the ending is clear from the start. The majority of the movie takes place in the court during the actual trial. They would frequently cut back to the events of the story that they are retelling and this messes with the flow of everything. A scene could either be slow and conversation driven then frantic and violent the next. The court interrogations are very slow and long and are not very gripping. I had a hard time staying interested in the story during the court scenes because it was always the same thing over and over again; Judge hates hippies, hippies disrespect judges, Bobby Seale is not supposed to be here, someone does a thing that moves the story up slightly, end of the day. Every now and then they cut back to the catalyst, but it never really is interesting. The feeling is the same for the riot scenes. Although they managed to capture the stylistic zeitgeist of late 60’s riots and protests I do think that a lot of the emotional impact of the violence is dampened by the rest of the story.
The cast is absolutely stacked yet only one of them gave a notable performance. Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman was enjoyable and was my drive to keep watching because I just wanted to see him frustrate Judge Hoffman (no relation) to no end. He gives a speech about three quarters of the way through when he was on trial that was probably the best moment of the whole movie. I thought Jeremy Strong (“Succession”) as Jerry Rubin had a couple notable scenes but I did not love Yahya Abdul- Mateen II (“Watchmen,” “Aquaman”) as the Black Panther leader Bobby Seale. I do not know if this is a story that you have to understand the full historical context of or this movie told the whole story but it just felt like there was so much missing from the Bobby Seale story and it really hurt Seale’s character arc because, again, it was repetitive and felt directionless to the point that the movie probably would have progressed the same without him. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays a very bland antagonist lawyer and Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman was more of an annoyance than a judicial obstacle to work around. I found myself getting frustrated with him but not in a way that I think was intended. Eddie Redmayne was built up to be the shining light in the resistance’s movement, but I really felt nothing watching his scenes. They all had solid motivations and were interesting characters, but I really did not actually care about what was going on with each individual character. A lot of the chemistry felt kind of nonexistent too with the only actors with any sense of togetherness being Baron Cohen and Strong.
I feel like I personally missed a lot of the point of this movie, but I feel that this is a result of the way the film was made. It portrayed itself in an important way, and while it did have that feeling of “this is an important event,” I did not think of this as an actual retelling of a real event, but rather a dull fiction story. “Trial of the Chicago 7” was a bit of a disappointment for me. I went in expecting big things from Sorkin and it did not even have the things that make Sorkin great. To be clear, it is not a terrible movie or a bad movie, but it is messy, and it is disappointing. I am feeling like “Trial of the Chicago 7” is just “Okay” on a scale of “Bad” to “Perfection.”