“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a master class in writing and acting.
Writer/director Aaron Sorkin has crafted a compelling courtroom drama with a talented cast that could well be the best ensemble we will see in a film this year.
The re-creation of one of the most infamous moments of political unrest in American history delivers as both a reenactment and a film whose message still resonates 50 years later.
“Chicago 7” follows the trial of seven men the Nixon administration accused of orchestrating a series of protests during the 1968 Democratic National Convention that escalated to violent confrontations.
The seven accused men include Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch) and Black Panther Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).
The trial becomes as turbulent as the protests and riots the defendants are accused of organizing as the seven men continually clash with a biased judge (Frank Langella) and a prosecution intent on making an example out of these men.
Sorkin frames the trial with flashbacks to the actual incidents – including the use of some archival footage – to really give the film a crisp pacing that matches the wonderful screenplay. The dialogue is Sorkin at its best – rapid-fire prose that is sharp and pointed and completely engaging.
Sorkin’s screenplay is in the hands of one of the most talented ensembles in recent memory. This is a film that come award season could go seven or eight deep with potential acting nominations. Everyone is just that good.
Redmayne is solid, Langella thrives as essentially the film’s villain, and Abdul-Mateen follows up his strong work in TV’s “Watchmen” with another fantastic performance.
Strong shines in every moment he is given, with Mark Rylance (as the attorney defending the men), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as one of the prosecutors) and a cameo by Michael Keaton providing the kind of performances that are so good they would carry lesser films.
But the biggest surprise, and best work, in the film comes from Cohen. He’s asked to essentially be the moral conscious of the film, and he takes that responsibility and delivers a career-best performance. It’s a side of Cohen that you sense has always been there, with Sorkin allowing him to unleash it to full effect.
Every moment Cohen is on the screen is electric, but fortunately this is a film where his magnetic performance is just the tip of the iceberg. This is one of the best films of 2020 – a study of political unrest that resonates even more in today’s divided climate.