The verdict should be unanimous: “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is an excellent film.
In my top 10 for 2020, this historical look an incident that happened decades ago will be familiar to older viewers and will help younger viewers gain new insights.
Screenwriter/director Aaron Sorkin can tell a great true story – “Moneyball,” “Steve Jobs” and “The Social Network” are great examples of that.
Here’s another one.
The framework of the film is the trail of seven men, some of whom hadn’t even met each other before the trial began. They are accused of inciting a riot outside the Democratic National Convention in 1968 in Chicago.
Among the accused are Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen, leaving his “Borat” guise far behind but most likely to earn an Oscar nod for Best Actor,) Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong, “Molly’s Game,”) Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” and Bobby Seale, cofounder of the Black Panthers (Yahya Abdul-Matteen II, “Us.”)
The parallels to today’s society are marked by scenes of protest against the Vietnam War and the draft – a nation divided by a counterculture and the establishment.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the young federal prosecutor Richard Schulz. The amazing Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”) is William Kunstler, an attorney with a focus on free speech, represents six of the defendants.
Judge Julius Hoffman is played by Frank Langella.
The movie is much more than its stellar ensemble. It’s full of dialogue that gives each character depth, and shows conflicts between the defendants while the trial slogs on.
The story will delight, frustrate, anger, and amuse viewers regardless of how they feel about the motivations of those involved. It’s what great moviemaking is all about.
4 out of 4 stars
Rated: R for foul language, drug abuse and violence.
Running time: Two hours and nine minutes.
Streaming on Netflix.