The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Trial of the Chicago 7 ★★★½

Why is it that watching a courtroom drama can often feel so daunting? Maybe their lower associated cost of production has led to an over-saturation of lower quality law serials and courtroom spin-off episodes for TV colouring our opinions, or maybe its because contemporary audiences find the genre a bit stale; have we really seen it adapt much since its cinematic inception? Did we really see the best it had to offer all the way back in 1957 with Lumet’s Twelve Angry Men? Whilst The Trial of the Chicago 7 doesn’t provide much in the way of genre revitalisation, I do think it’s the best we’ve seen since Lincoln Lawyer.

It almost feels redundant to comment on an Aaron Sorkin script at this point, we all know how great they are. Aided by a natural sense of rhythm and flow, and paired with a healthy dose of clumsy character interaction, Sorkin manages to settle things like unrealistically eloquent monologues into the real world without a problem. The characters are witty and hyper-articulate, always delivering the punchiest responses whenever called for - the kind of retorts you think of in the shower a week after the argument already ended. You can tell Sorkin comes from theatre, each scene in the Chicago 7 feels built for the stage.

My biggest criticism then, is that Aaron Sorkin the director is way out of Aaron Sorkin the writer’s league. His direction certainly serves its purpose, but a more ambitious approach to certain scenes would have better served the experience. Think back to 1992’s A Few Good Men; Sorkin’s writing coupled with Rob Reiner’s direction left us so many more stand-out courtroom scenes. I think Sorkin’s writing is much better today in Chicago 7, but we just won’t remember it as vividly as we do in A Few Good Men, even 3 decades on.

Whilst I’m still not sold on Eddie Redmayne, my favourite thing about The Trial of the Chicago 7 was watching the brilliant cast hold my attention in every scene. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jeremy Strong disappear completely into their rolls, Michael Keaton was a surprise home-run, and the real stand out is Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who acted circles around everybody, becoming the focal point of every scene he inhabited. Finally, Sacha Baron Cohen’s involvement was initially jarring to me (especially that accent), but as with 2019’s The Spy, we are quickly reminded that he isn’t just a moustachioed Kazakh anti-Semite, but a genuinely extraordinary talent.