Focusing on a controversial event from fifty years ago, Aaron Sorkin reminds us that other eras produced conflicts to match today’s contentiousness. The Trial of the Chicago 7 melds Sorkin’s fascination with history, politics, and justice, issues he previously explored as writer for The Social Network, The West Wing, and A Few Good Men. Concerned about issues dealing with power abuses, Sorkin turns to a high-profile trial pitting the political establishment against individuals who wanted change.
That call for change turned violent at the 1968 convention when war protesters and police marched against each other with results that seemed anything but democratic. Sorkin’s complicated but clear screenplay recounts on how blame for the riots focused on eight men—shrunk to seven after courtroom troubles. The names remain familiar to some: Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale. They lure an impressive cast as the accused including Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, and The Watchmen’s Emmy winner Yahya Abdul-Mateen.
Oscar winner Mark Rylance joins other recognizable actors like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella, and Michael Keaton in additional key roles. Perhaps because he plays a man who successfully worked the college comedy circuit, Cohen stands out most memorably as Hoffman, getting the best lines and playing them for both humor and drama. Currently making the rounds with high profile work in his Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm, Cohen’s Chicago Seven work shows him as a performer with wide ranging talent.
With many recordings available to use as a resource, Cohen picks up many of Hoffman’s mannerisms, and the characters seems much like his public persona. However, writer-director Sorkin’s take on other real-life characters shifts a few personality traits, which allows him to present several differing approaches to rebellion. Like most writers condensing a long history into two hours, Sorkin makes choices for dramatic purpose. Sorkin also switches some timelines, like a gut-wrenching appeal to focus on what inspired the seven to rebel. Sorkin uses this reminder for building an emotionally laden finale, one whose essence remains solid, a truth that advises remembering the past and trying to learn from it.