‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ Review: A Revised History Lesson from Aaron Sorkin

✯✯½

The latest directorial effort from Aaron Sorkin finds itself within those same lines as Sorkin’s television work compared to his prior film Molly’s Game. It’s easy enough to admire Sorkin for his rapid-fire dialogue because it’s often very entertaining to listen to, but ever since Sorkin started directing his own films it seemed too clear that perhaps his style of writing going out completely unfiltered only hinders him even more. But even as he lets his pen direct his actors, it seems like his own politics take over the real story he wishes to tell – which shows itself all too conveniently in The Trial of the Chicago 7.

In telling the story of the protests that took place at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Aaron Sorkin brings the viewers into a sense of that chaos that could only be felt within the days of unrest at a revolutionary point in American history. Everywhere they go, the chant “the whole world is watching!” follows the viewers, resonating all through the years later and leading into the present, as perfect a time as ever for Sorkin to have released a film of this sort. Sorkin isn’t one to waste time bringing you into the chaos that came forth within the days of unrest that have followed the protests, but there also comes a point where seeing all of this strictly through Sorkin’s eyes feels numbing.

At his best, Sorkin has been able to find a perfect place for his fast-moving dialogue so that it becomes a part of the reason you stick with the characters you see onscreen, but at worst, he doesn’t really seem to let these people onscreen speak the way we feel they would because they’re being run through how Sorkin talk sounds. Which wouldn’t be so much of a bad thing, especially when it feels too characteristic of their mannerisms in a case like The Social Network, but with The Trial of the Chicago 7 it seems to take over how these events unfolded – let alone how these people who were part of that trial had talked, creating a neutered picture of the very ideas that led into what took place then.

With a cast that includes Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Frank Langella, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Eddie Redmayne among many, Sorkin brings out great work from most players across the board. Mark Rylance and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II are always a thrill to watch in their respective roles, but the more you listen to Sorkin’s walk-and-talk writing style taking over there comes a point where it feels like the performers are reading lines in a manner that also makes them come off as calculated on every frame. This is evident in the performances of Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, and Frank Langella – and while it’s never boring to listen to people speak the way Sorkin writes them, he doesn’t ever let them tell this story in a way that it feels like you were ever part of that chaos.

Though I am not against the dramatization of history in order to create a picture that would be tangible for the viewers, the ways in which Aaron Sorkin seems to embrace that neutered political perspective on these events seem to lead into the film’s biggest downfall. What Sorkin shows as a triumphant moment within the climax only presents itself as a naive view of how things can get better within reality, then it all comes undone by the blocks of text afterwards. With Daniel Pemberton’s music searing at this moment, it seems like a purely Sorkin scene – in the worst ways too. It just feels disingenuous, even for the sake of creating dramatic effect, because by that point it leaves one questioning how much does Sorkin truly care about the impact that this case had on American history in the years to come since.

Part of me wonders if I’ll ever see that same sense of excitement from a new Aaron Sorkin project coming by, but I’m finding that as he starts to go unfiltered behind the camera as the director, his worst tendencies as a writer start to show themselves more and it feels less like listening to his characters as people. It makes The Trial of the Chicago 7 play out like a history lesson that was filtered in such a way that a white liberal audience would tell it, supposedly afraid to take on a stance that might be too “radical” for them now. At worst, you have another Sorkin project that’ll be the talk of awards season, but with him supposedly playing by ways of a Spielberg drama, you know exactly what he’s going for.


Watch the trailer right here.

All images via Netflix.


Directed by Aaron Sorkin
Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
Produced by Stuart M. Besser, Matt Jackson, Marc Platt, Tyler Thompson
Starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Eddie Redmayne, Noah Robbins, Mark Rylance, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong
Release Date: September 25, 2020
Running Time: 130 minutes

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