For a movie set during the height of the Vietnam War, The Trial of the Chicago 7 resonates in our current political climate. A nation seemingly splitting at the seems over race, ideological differences, and indifference to other points of view, Aaron Sorkin’s latest film leaves audiences slightly uneasy at all the connections between then and today. The setting for the film is Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. We are currently in the midst of the most brutal presidential election in modern history. In both instances, the whole world is watching these events unfold. The Trial of the Chicago 7 reminds us of what’s at stake when our fundamental freedoms face challenges from those with power. Sorkin brilliantly takes these actual events and crafts them in a way that allows the audience to make their judgments. How far is too far? Where should the line be drawn?
As far as ensembles go, this is the best I’ve seen in 2020, and it’s not incredibly close. Phedon Papmichael’s cinematography is exceptional and plays a big part in bringing those tense interactions between everyone in the ensemble. The editing in the film is superb too. Sorkin deftly wove in archival footage intercut with actual re-enactments of the riots to give the movie an all too real feel.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 has two standout performances that most will be talking about. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Frank Langella were each sensational in their respective roles. Abdul-Mateen II plays Bobby Seale, the Black Panther movement leader wrongly accused of taking part in the Chicago riots. Langella plays Judge Hoffman, who comes off as only plain evil during the trial. There’s a sequence during the Trial where it’s easy to think Sorkin is going off the deep end during this portion of the film. It’s hard to fathom that we live in a world where an African American man could bound and gagged while standing trial. Langella and Abdul-Mateen II have this presence on the screen, which is nothing short of electric. I’d even go so far as to say that Langella is a big reason why the film comes off as well as it does. Judge Hoffman’s over the top brand of evil just made me root harder for the defendants.