REVIEW: ‘Chicago 7’ is a compelling look at justice and politics, despite flaws

In most court movies, there’s just one defendant on trial. This Netflix release gives seven for the price of one.

Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, “Trial of the Chicago 7” takes place in the aftermath of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. On the outside of the convention were large protests, and following the political event, eight were charged by the government for inciting riots.

The defendants included Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Alex Sharp (Rennie Davis), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jeremy Strong (Jerry Rubin), John Lynch (David Dellinger), Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), John Froines (Daniel Flaherty) and Bob Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). During the trial, though, Seale’s case was severed and the defendant list went to seven. The federal prosecutor in the case is Tom Foran (J.C. MacKenzie) while the main lawyer for the defense is William Kunstler (Mark Rylance).

Aaron Sorkin delivers a pretty solid legal drama with his sophomore directorial effort that feels rather timely for this period. While the movie is certainly formulaic at times, it’s still overall a well-made procedural courtroom flick with a strong cast. Sorkin’s writing also helps to elevate the movie.

There are some really strong moments of dialogue featured, both in and out of the courtroom. Several scenes showcasing the political tensions of the era and the workings of the justice system make for a compelling picture.

Where the film is strongest, though, is in its exploration of factions within a political movement. All of the characters on trial lean on the left side of the political spectrum, yet they all have pronounced differences.

This subject, which still exists in the discourse today, is handled nicely, in that it shows just how politically diverse people can be. This culminates in a memorable scene featuring a debate between Hayden and Hoffman.

TrialChicagoBlog
Courtesy Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures, Cross Creek Pictures and Netflix.

While “Chicago 7” offers enough to make it worth a watch, though, it also has its flaws. One noticeable issue is how the film handles the character Bob Seale.

As it happened in real life, Seale isn’t part of the trial all the way to the end. However, his character often seems sidelined, and basically disappears about halfway through, without even a follow-up scene.

As previously stated, “Trial” is also fairly generic in its approach. There’s only so much a courtroom drama can do, pitting a prosecution and a defense team against each other. That is true for “Chicago 7,” where we as an audience have to go through familiar motions.

There are a few sequences that feel too over-dramatized as well. Some scenes occasionally feel more Hollywoodized and less authentic than others.

What helps carry “Trial” over these flaws are the performances from the cast. Cohen, for example, goes a little too thick with his Boston accent, but makes the character a passionate figure who helps give the film an identity.

Redmayne, meanwhile, gives a really strong performance, portraying the conflict where his character is trying to stick to his ideals, but also set himself aside from his counterparts as willing to work within the system.

The standout, though, is Rylance. The Academy Award winner is powerful here, portraying a fierce, dedicated lawyer who has his work cut out for him. Along with being the main counsel for the defense, the character also has to be somewhat of an overseeing force for the seven, keeping them in line and unified as they try to get through the trial. Rylance really captures all of these aspects.

“Trial of the Chicago 7” is an engaging drama with solid acting and a respectable script. There are a few stumbles here and there, but it’s a good Netflix entry. 4 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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