The Trial of the Chicago Seven (2020). Film review of the courtroom drama starring Sacha Baron-Cohen

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Drama

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Film review by Jason Day of The Trial of the Chicago Seven, a chronicle of the uprising at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Starring Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Sacha Baron Cohen. Directed by Aaron Sorkin.

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Synopsis

The story of seven people on trial stemming from various charges surrounding the uprising at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois.

Review, by @Reelreviewer

When I was at Staffordshire University many moons ago for my degree in Film Studies and Psychology, my final project was a feature length film screenplay rather than the usual dissertation.

I went big rather than go home and opted for a whacking, three-hour plus adaptation of Mourning Becomes Electra, the Eugene O’Neil play that had captivated me ever since I saw the wooden 1947 movie version by Dudley Nichols.

My screenwriting tutor told me film scripts should never have too many characters, to keep things less cluttered and easily digestible for audiences. Christ alone knows what he thought of my magnum opus, with umpteen characters split between two time periods when the mammoth tome appeared on his marking desk (but, I got a 2:1 for it).

I don’t disagree with his advice, but it’s interesting to see it being so skillfully contradicted when a master of the art such as Aaron Sorkin takes the same approach and wins, wins, wins. Because, there are a lot of names in this story and the narrative jumps back and forth between different settings as different groups of these characters conduct the enquiries that propel the narrative forward.

Courtroom dramas can lack cinematic oomph, but the furious and busy editing style here helps add pacing and urgency. The machine-gun style, ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ switching between various moments in time – plus stand-up comedy sequences that afford a wry, ‘omnipotent narrator’ commentary on the main action – ensure your attention is kept up throughout.

It’s enough to boggle your eyes and mind but, again, Sorkin is a master at handling such plate-spinning and turns out a mightily entertaining and very funny movie. It’s a real thrill to see him pull all the threads in his story together.

The ensemble acting combination makes the opening, antagonistic courtroom scene so fabulously abrasive. It’s almost uncomfortable to watch a legal case come so publicly, beautifully undone.

A lot of the humour, of course, comes from this A-grade cast, particularly Baron-Cohen (Borat, Bruno, The Dictator and other films of that ilk) who is a revelation here. The cheeky, ribald, edgy personality that first made him famous as TVs Ali G is still there and his Abbie Hoffman is an absolute hoot, especially during the courtroom family asides with Frank Langella as the increasingly exasperated Judge with whom he who shares a surname but nothing else.

I still have a few Best Picture Oscar nominees for this year’s ceremony to watch but, based on what I have seen, I would like to see Trial of the…win that award.

Cast & credits

Director: Aaron Sorkin. 2 hr 9 min (129 min). Dreamworks Pictures/Amblin Partners/Aperture Media Partners (in association)/CAA Media Finance/Cross Creek Pictures/Double Infinity Productions/MadRiver Pictures/Marc Platt Productions/Paramount Pictures/Reliance Entertainment/Rocket Science/ShivHans Pictures. (15).

Producers: Stuart M. Besser, Marc Platt, Tyler Thompson, Matt Jackson.
Writer: Aaron Sorkin.
Camera: Phedon Papamichael.
Music: Daniel Pemberton.
Sets: Shane Valentino.

Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Ben Shenkman, J.C. MacKenzie, Frank Langella, Michael Keaton.


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