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‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ deserves a spot on your watchlist — and in the Oscars nominations

‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ deserves a spot on your watchlist — and in the Oscars nominations

‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ deserves a spot on your watchlist — and in the Oscars nominations
October 19
19:55 2020

“This is the Academy Awards of protests, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s an honor just to be nominated.”

Something tells me this line was not just an arbitrary piece of dialogue, and director Aaron Sorkin would, in fact, like the honor of being nominated for the 2021 Academy Awards.

Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which made its Netflix debut last Friday, is a riveting retelling of the trial of seven men surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention uprising. What was initially supposed to be a peaceful antiwar protest evolved into a clash with police, and the men on trial were charged with inciting a riot. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” offers compelling insight into history with modern-day considerations, solidifying its merit for Oscars consideration in the process.

The cast list is an Oscars statement in and of itself. Golden Globe winner Sacha Baron Cohen and Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne play Abbie Hoffman and Tom Hayden respectively, who are the most heavily focused on of the seven. Recent Emmy winners Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Panther leader Bobby Seale and Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin also compete for screen time. Familiar faces like Michael Keaton, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Carroll Lynch and Mark Rylance round out the bulk of the cast. None of them disappoint.

While based on the real trial, Sorkin’s film is not a word-for-word retelling of actual events. From what I can tell through light research, though, he did a remarkable job at condensing a lengthy trial into a clean 129 minutes. Well-paced and thoroughly chronicled, the movie dives deep enough into the details without bogging it down with testimony or courtroom jargon. The writers infused the script with a good amount of quippy comedic lines to balance out its political and philosophical tone. There are some heavy-hitting pieces of dialogue here, nestled into the storyline so well that you couldn’t tell whether they were contrived or pulled from court documents. Sorkin carries us through the film with prose that is captivating yet authentic, delivering a profound impact while not seeming too out-of-pocket for a trial.

Sorkin’s dramatization of certain events serves a purpose other than entertainment, though, as this film about an over 50-year-old trial seems especially timely. There’s an eerie undertone that these 1968 events are not as removed from present-day society as we may be inclined to think. Scenes of cops removing their identification badges before beating civilians, or of a judge undermining hard evidence in the name of racial bias or political agenda, are not at all far off from what we have seen unfold in recent months.

Perhaps my favorite use of artistic freedom is Sorkin’s portrayal of divergent ideologies among the seven. While the real-life men on trial hailed from different groups like Students for a Democratic Society, the Yippies and (briefly) the Black Panthers, it is my understanding that much of the on-screen conflict between these men is fictional. At the helm of these ideological differences are Abbie and Tom, and their discourse surrounding government, culture and revolution begs us to consider the role these play in shaping our current political landscape and social movements. There is also a dynamic exploration of racism — Bobby’s time on trial is a forceful representation of just how much higher the stakes are for Black communities in social movements.

While every actor was excellent in their role, I have to mention the standouts. Strong (who looks so different here, I almost did not recognize him) and Baron Cohen served as the comedic relief hippies while also grounding the potency of 1960s counterculture. Rylance dazzled as the lead defense lawyer. Redmayne proved his phenomenal range once again, adopting a new accent and set of mannerisms and delivering with forceful passion in his character’s more agitated state. Abdul-Mateen II served a striking and moving portrayal of Bobby and was probably the standout for me. With COVID-19 limiting the number of films up for Oscar consideration this year, I would not be surprised nor disappointed if the latter three each earned a nomination.

As for critiques, they’re mainly tiny personal qualms — first, the music did not quite deliver for me. The scenes scored by 60s-inspired riffs were solid, but others were accompanied by your traditional inspiring “based on a true story” sound that just took me out of it a bit. A prime example lies in the film’s final scene. Also, I wish we had gotten to see more of Bobby’s fate. Neither of these issues, though, detract from the story itself.

With potent commentary about the police state and government suppression aided by stunning performances and dialogue, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a must-see film with timely implications for our modern world. We have a few months left in 2021 Academy Awards eligibility, but at present, I have a feeling Sorkin will, in fact, receive the honor of being nominated.

Final rating: 4.75/5

Featured image: Courtesy Netflix

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Haley Arnold

Haley Arnold

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