Review: The Trial of the Chicago 7 ‘delivers on every level’

PUBLISHED: 12:48 14 October 2020 | UPDATED: 13:21 14 October 2020

The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: NICO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX 2020

The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: NICO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX 2020

© 2020 Netflix, Inc.

Film critic Paul Steward reviews The Trial of the Chicago 7, which is in cinemas now and arrives on streaming service Netflix on Friday.

The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: NetflixThe Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: Netflix

Originally intended as a Steven Spielberg film over a decade ago, acclaimed scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin adopts the writer/director mantle for only the second time, with this timely retelling of the controversial 1969 federal trial of seven anti-Vietnam war protesters.

Following his successful directorial debut (2018’s Molly’s Game), Sorkin assembles a star-studded cast for this Netflix-funded production.

Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong star as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, co-founders of the Youth International Party, whilst Eddie Redmayne and Alex Sharp are Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis of the Students Democratic Society.

Together with David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), the group are charged with crossing state lines to incite riots during the 1968 democratic national convention.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale in The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX 2020Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale in The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX 2020

Despite little evidence to support the charges, the fledgling Nixon administration pushes forward with the trial in an attempt to make an example of the young protesters.

Two other young students, Lee Weiner and John Froines, make up the seven, whilst Yahya Abdul-Mateen’s Black Panther leader Bobby Seale is inexplicably added to the group in an attempt to make them seem more threatening to a jury.

With Mark Rylance as defence lawyer William Kunstler, facing off against Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s conflicted prosecutor Richard Schultz, and Frank Langella portraying the film’s chief antagonist Judge Julius Hoffman, the cast is a strong as any film this side of the Thin Red Line.

Despite the 1960s setting, the film has obvious contemporary relevance, particularly in the courts treatment of Seale, which makes the story all the more impactful.

Frank Langella stars in Paramount Pictures' The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: Niko Tavernise /  PARAMOUNT PICTURES.Frank Langella stars in Paramount Pictures' The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: Niko Tavernise / PARAMOUNT PICTURES.

Sorkin’s brilliant script somehow manages to turn this remarkable tale and its five-month long trial into a completely enthralling two-hour courtroom drama.

With an ensemble cast as strong as this, it almost seems churlish to single out individuals for praise, however Rylance captivates as the group’s incredulous defence attorney, and Baron Cohen, in a rare serious role, absolutely dazzles as the charismatic Abbie Hoffman. His tense exchanges with Langella’s despicable Judge crackle throughout the film.

Oscar season has been delayed until April, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this outstanding film feature heavily in the awards chat.

Crowd-pleasing and enraging in equal measure, The Trial of the Chicago 7 delivers on every level.

The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX 2020The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX 2020

A stirring tale told by a masterful filmmaker. A real must see.

• The Trial of the Chicago 7 is in cinemas now and will be available on Netflix from Friday, October 16.

Mark Rylance as William Kunstler and Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden in The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX 2020Mark Rylance as William Kunstler and Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden in The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX 2020

Kelvin Harrison Jr as Fred Hampton, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale, Mark Rylance as William Kuntsler in The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX 2020Kelvin Harrison Jr as Fred Hampton, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale, Mark Rylance as William Kuntsler in The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX 2020

The Trial of the Chicago 7 stars Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman. Picture: Niko Tavernise / Netflix.The Trial of the Chicago 7 stars Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman. Picture: Niko Tavernise / Netflix.

The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX  2020The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX 2020

Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin in The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture:  Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX 2020Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin in The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX 2020

Kelvin Harrison Jr as Fred Hampton, Yahya Abdul-Mateen as Bobby Seale, Mark Rylance as William Kunstler, writer-director Aaron Sorkin, and Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden in The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX 2020Kelvin Harrison Jr as Fred Hampton, Yahya Abdul-Mateen as Bobby Seale, Mark Rylance as William Kunstler, writer-director Aaron Sorkin, and Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden in The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX 2020

Aaron Sorkin, writer / director, of The Trial of the Chicago 7.  Picture: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX  2020Aaron Sorkin, writer / director, of The Trial of the Chicago 7. Picture: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX 2020


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