The first film since Molly’s Game from director Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7 finally arrived on Netflix last week after a nearly decade-long delay that pointed to a cancellation many years ago. Yet, in the midst of our tense political climate in these past few years, Aaron Sorkin decided to step behind the camera for the second time in his career to deliver a film that showcases both his best and worst qualities for all to see.
The Best and Worst of Sorkin
Once again, Sorkin delivers with another brilliantly structured screenplay that has become a trademark of his throughout his storied career. With sharp rhetoric and rapid-fire dialogue that plays like free-flowing but cunningly calculated poetry at all times, he is able to show us why he is one of the most well-regarded screenwriters in the entire industry.
Yet, that is not to say that his screenplay is perfect by any means. While his structural and verbal finesse is admirable, his directorial need to streamline and move the plot at an astonishingly quick pace ultimately results in having nearly every interaction be weighted down with an astounding level of self-righteousness that frankly, comes off as a form of pandering or level of virtue signaling that has little place in these ever-changing times.
Additionally, while it is a noticeable improvement from his previous try, Sorkin’s flat and unintuitive direction manages to stand out here. Because of the clinical voice that inhibits each and every scene, no real risks are taken and Sorkin plays it as safe as it can get, putting his screenplay at center stage by sacrificing the presence of an intriguing visual style, and any noticeable advancements in the development of his technique behind the camera.
Striving for Importance
One aspect that many will commend and others will surely turn on is Sorkin’s relentless pursuit to find and heighten the relevancy of the film itself. In the early segments of the film, Sorkin seems to be on track to achieve this goal, such as in the brilliantly staged opening montage that plays in an eerily similar way to Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods earlier this year but is still almost as impactful and hard-hitting as that opening (with some brilliant editing from Alan Baumgartner that carries on throughout the rest of the film as a notable highlight).
However, as the film carries on, Sorkin’s limited perspective begins to show as he fails to capture the zeitgeist, framing the film as a call to action that tries so hard to be relevant but fails to properly portray the nuanced perspectives of the marginalized and diverse communities that had a stake in the proceedings of the trial. While it does eventually regain its footing once one comes to terms with the fact that the film will only truly feel relevant for a certain demographic, it’s uncharacteristically storybook-style ending borders on anecdotal parody and comes as a tonal shock when juxtaposed against the previous (and subsequent) events placed around it. Ultimately, it falters in its journey to make a larger and more universal point, coming off as a film with the argumental simplicity of Green Book rather than the depth Sorkin was striving for (which, to be honest, may help more than hurt it’s awards prospects).
An Astonishing Ensemble
Regarding awards, however, it’s indubitable strength lies in its varied performances. Each of the seven titular protagonists plus their surrounding faces is able to portray their characters in a vibrant way that results in such a deep pool of talent that it will be a hefty task to determine who will be selected in the nomination and win process. While each and every one of these characters would be the best fit for a supporting push, one cannot deny the charisma of Sacha Baron Cohen and Eddie Redmayne in their roles as leaders with similar goals at war with each other because of their conflicting approaches.
In more minor roles, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Micheal Keaton, Frank Langella, Jeremy Strong, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (whose Emmy winning turn proved that he was robbed of more screen time here), all hold their own as well and ensure that this film will be populating the minds of voters and guild members for the months to come.
A Satisfying Crowd-Pleaser with Room to Grow
All things considered, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a satisfying and competent film that will be sure to be looked upon favorably by general audiences and awards voters alike. Here, Sorkin shows his proven panache as a writer, as well as the presence of much room to work on refining and developing his directorial voice. While many educated viewers will look upon it as a simplistic and unfocused attempt to be relevant in such current times, if peace is made with the fact that this film has a more specific focus, The Trial of the Chicago 7 has the potential to become a bonafide crowd-pleaser that will resonate with its target demographic but reveals much room for Aaron Sorkin’s political perspective to grow.
What did you think of The Trial of the Chicago 7? Let us know in the comments below!
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is now available on Netflix!
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