Every year the Best Picture nominations for the Oscars include a film that you can see as typical Oscar material. Out of this year’s list, The Trial of the Chicago 7 fits that criterion the most, but that’s not a bad thing in this case. Renowned screenwriter Aaron Sorkin ventures back into the director’s chair and the result is a fine courtroom drama.
Return of the Sorkin
A star cast and a renowned writer, that’s all this film needed to generate Oscar buzz before it was even out. Aaron Sorkin has been known in the circuit for years for his scenarios. It started on film with that other court classic A Few Good Men , followed by Charlie Wilson’s War , on TV The West Wing and The Newsroom and he won his first Oscar for The Social Network (which I actually didn’t remember writing). had). He also took the director ‘s chair for Molly’s Game , with moderate success. But in this story he finds more balance and he also has something relevant to tell.
The Chicago 7 are not as well known here as in the US. Initially, they have almost nothing in common and often did not even know each other. But their ideals eventually cross paths in 1969. They are all against the Vietnam War raging at the time, and want to protest at the Democratic Party Congress in Chicago. Delegates from various groups, the Students for a Democratic Society, the Youth International Party, National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam and the Black Panther Party, descended on the city without official permission.
When the riots turn violent, 8 people are arrested and charged with inciting violence.(Zodiac ), Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), John Froines (Daniel Flaherty), and Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Watchmen) eventually appear in court in a lawsuit that was remarkable to say the least. The case was basically baseless and presided over by a judge who wasn’t very concerned with the rules and even human rights. That was made clear by the situation of Bobby Seale, the national chairman of the Black Panther Party. He had hardly anything to do with the protests and was treated scandalously. A scene with him is even downright shocking but also painfully relevant.
No past tense
Unfortunately, Sorkin couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate time to release this film. Since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, people have taken to the streets in droves to protest. On the one hand, Seale’s treatment in the lawsuit shows how little progress we’ve actually made. But at the same time, there is a white savior quality to the ending of his story that feels a bit strange. In addition, there is also the fate of the Protestants to consider, both past and present. Many who only took to the streets peacefully were arrested anyway, and we noticed that more during the Trump era.
Surprisingly, Sorkin wrote the script back in 2007, when Steven Spielberg was still going to direct it. The project ended up in development hell until he took over himself in 2018. The film was already shot when the protests reached a new high, so you can’t accuse him of opportunism. His script can be perfectly transferred to this moment. His writing style is not always for everyone, but here he finds a nice balance. Some of his projects make me cringe because the characters don’t always speak like real people. I didn’t really have that problem here. It is of course also a true story that received a lot of media attention, so you can’t take too much artistic liberties here.
He does, however, throw the classic structure of a court film overboard. We don’t stay in court all the time. In between we see how it all went on the day of the protests itself, and there is also the interlude of the defendant Abbie Hoffman (Sasha Baron Cohen) who tells a group of students how it went afterwards. That all keeps the momentum going. There is also nothing to complain about with such a cast. In addition to the 8 central actors I mentioned above, you also have Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mark Rylance, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Michael Keaton and Frank Langella as the judge. It is therefore logical that they received the prize for Best Ensemble at the past SAG awards, the actor prizes.
For the Golden Globes, BAFTAs and Oscars, an actor was taken out for an individual prize. Sasha Baron Cohen, with the amusing yet sincere Abbie Hofmann, has a role that is just right for him. He has a chance to win two Oscars this year, in addition to that for the screenplay of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm . I would also have put Yahya Abdul-Mateen II forward, because he again impresses. In addition to the scenario, the editing can rightly win prizes, because it also keeps the variety in it. The nomination for Best Picture is, as I said, perhaps less surprising, but also not undeserved. This one definitely belongs in the list of the better “talk” and court films. And let those genres just appeal to me.