American justice is injustice. Aaron Sorkin’s THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (2020) should be a reminder of that. All states exist to serve their own interests, which means those with power suppress those who don’t. America is not uniquely free of such wrongs, and the story of the Chicago Seven is proof. These were seven men who protested the Vietnam War outside the Democratic National Convention in 1968, and were subsequently tried on the flimsy pretence that they conspired to cross state lines to commit violence. Many think pieces will write that THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 is a timely movie, because 2020 is itself a year a protest. But the film is not timely. Firstly, it was pitched over a decade ago and was not made with any modern parallels in mind. Secondly, THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 is always relevant. Injustice and protest are always under threat, across the world and in America. A film about this history cannot be timely, because that would imply there was time when it was irrelevant. Which is why, at the very least, THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 is an important work, about truth, injustice, and righteous anger.
The cast of THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 are generally excellent. It is a true ensemble, without a real lead. Everyone will find different standouts among the accomplished cast. From my perspective, it was Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II who were most impressive. This is easily the best thing Redmayne has done, finally a serious role without a gimmick, in a good movie. Rylance is dependable and so delivers again here, though with an American accent for a change. Other cast members also deserve attention for their performances, including Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, Frank Langella, and Michael Keaton in a great cameo role. Langella plays the film’s judge and he is undoubtedly one of the most villainous cinematic creations of the year. It’s just depressing that he plays a real person. Baron Cohen’s character is probably the heart of the movie, alongside Redmayne, and he brings both energy and comedy to the film. The film is never funny, so Baron Cohen keeps it dramatic even with his playful character. Whereas Redmayne is almost a revelation in THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7, Baron Cohen proves that he is as talented as always. It’s just a shame that awards and acclaim are not kind to comedy actors. The ensemble is rounded out by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Carroll Lynch, and Alex Sharp, among others. There is not one bad performance here and THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 is a real acting powerhouse.
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 is a compelling dive into leftist politics and historical injustice. There is some dramatic license, but it is a true story that is worth knowing about. The film does draw on some very cheesy plot developments, especially towards the end, to make everything digestible. Yet that doesn’t detract from proceedings. The film is about a system that wants to stop protest. That makes it worthwhile, despite all flaws. It’s a well-acted and well-constructed movie. It may be very pedestrian, but it’s also important and worthy of attention.