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The Trial of the Chicago 7— Aaron Sorkin's film gives the notorious 1968 trial an unmistakable of the moment feel.
By Elyse Sommer
Since this is also Sorkin's version of the widely documented protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and the lengthy trial of the eight men who were accused ot conspiring to cause riots, Sorkin has managed to give his torn-from-the-past headlines an unmistakable of-the-moment feel.
The result is a canny combination of docudrama and originally scripted and structured movie that fleshes out the actual historic background and courtroom drama with his own dialogue, character interactions, and detours from the courtroom in which this notorious trial unfolds.
Besides Sorkins' own fan base to insure the film's sure-fire success with Netflix, The Trial of the Chicago 7 has a truly starry cast, a number with Oscars and Tonys in their resumes. That includes Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baren Cohen and Jeremy Strong as pivotal protesters — Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubins; Mark Rylance as their attorney William Kunstler, and Frank Langella as the obviously bigoted and incompetent Judge Julius Hoffman. The three British cast members — Redmayne, Cohen and Rylance — not only live up to their starry reputations but deserve an extra bravo for their pitch-perfect American accents. But the entire cast is topntch and contributes to the pleasure of seeing a vital historic event superbly and entertainingly interpreted.
Sorkin begins his film with contextual footage of the America polarised by violence and the peace movement triggered by an unpopular war. As he moves the action into Judge Hoffman's courtroom, he presents actual scenes that heighten the spectacle of its intermittently comic and painful to watch scenes. But this is his take, so he streamlines the six-month-long trial to highlights that support his vision. He also doesn't confine the obviously innocent accused men and their lawyers to the the courtroom but uses scenes in the court's back room and other locations to more fully and potently depict the various points of view and interactions.
If many of those scenes seem all too similar to current events, that is, of course, intentional. Mr. Sorkin's streamlining and original dialogue does work to offer Netflix audiences a provocative history play with a star cast and plenty of Mr. Sorkin's attention and emotion grabbing touches.
If Sorkin's take leaves you wondering what a movie more true to the original trial's transcripts would be like, no need to wonder. Of the several previous films about the trial, Jeremy Kagan's Conspiracy: Trial of the Chicago 8 can be streamed at Amazon Prime. While watching two shows about the same historic event will bring on a case of streaming overdose, I found watching the less high-profile earlier fillm right after the one trending big-time at Netflix enhanced my appreciation of both.
The Kagan fillm uses the orignal trial transcripts as its script and keeps everyone in the courtroom. However, it cleverly superimposes comments from the actural defendants. That innovative directorial touch as well as a strong cast avoid longuers. So, why not make enough popcorn for a double feature.
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The Trial of the Chicago 7
Written and Directed by Aaron Sorkin
Principal Cast Members: Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden, Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale, John Carroll Lynch as David Dellinger; Mark Rylance as attorney William Kunstler, Ben Shankman as second defense attorney Leonard Weinglass, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as prosecutor Richard Schultz; Michael Keaton as Ramsey Clark, Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman.
Cinematographer: Phedon Papamichael
Costume Designer: Susan Lyall
Production Designer: Shane Valentino
Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes
Available at Netflix