"The Trial of the Chicago 7" isa relatively new movie from 2020 and a co-production not only between the USA and UK, but also India which surprised me a bit. It runs for over two hours and was written and directed by Oscar-winning writer Aaron Sorkin, actually only his second movie as the man in charge behind the camera too. The first scored one single Oscar nomination, namely for his screenplay, the second (i.e. This one here) scored bigger, including a Best Picture nomination. Sorkin was also considered a potential winner for his writing once again, but came short this time. Maybe with his third film then. Seems as if he is getting in the groove. I will elaborate a little bit later on the story. What you should know for now is that the cast is pretty prominent here. British Oscars winners Redmayne and Rylance are on board. Sacha Baron Cohen is always easy to identify and he is the only one from the cast who scored major awards attention. Frank Langella has a great deal of screen time playing the main antagonist. Michael Keaton shows up briefly only, but plays a pretty significant character nonetheless. Also fairly telling he is clearly playing second fiddle to Redmayne again, just the way it was when it came to their clash at the Oscars a few years ago. But back to this one here: Even the lesser known actors like John Carroll Lynch, Jeremy Strong and Alex Sharp have decent recognition value. Oh and I must also mention J. C. MacKenzie. Not a key character he plays, but as a Dark Angel fan I shall not overlook him now around the age of 50. Oh yeah, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is on board here too, but my enthusiasm linked to him is really not too big. Now you see this is a really male-dominated cast. We do have an actress playing Redmayne's character's girlfriend and another one playing an undercover agent, but that's it basically and they do not have a lot to work with. This of course also has to do with history as this film is set in the late 1960s, so over 50 years ago now, and everybody (or at least the majority of characters) you see in here is based on actual people.
From the historic perspective I was struggling with the outcome though. I felt there were hardly no shades here and instead of really giving a truly accurate display of said trial, it felt more like a convenient choice to fit in with the political climate in 2021. The best (or worst) moment was maybe when Rylance's character asked another Black character if he can breathe. So blatantly obvious and honestly I am pretty glad that Sorkin did not win an Oscar for his screenplay here. The race aspect felt shoddy and rushed in. I am not sure to what extent there is really 100% credible evidence that the Black Panthers leader was beaten up while everybody in the courtroom was waiting. I guess his lawyer struggles and how he sat there gagged really happened like that and are based on actual happenings, but still. This was a key issue here and I truly felt that this movie was taking sides too much overall. Shades were missing entirely. Even JGL's character who was the closest to showing some character development by slightly swithcing to the good side (you can really say it like that) not only because he stands with everybody else in the end did not make much of an impact. There is a fitting moment relatively early on when all three (groups of) defendants are called the radical left, which is pretty accurate. They are just different in terms of style and manners. Honestly, with all the horrible crimes commited by the Black Panthers, I find it almost disgraceful how they are depicted in here and disrespectful to their victims. The leader is accused of murder, but of course he did not do it. He is severely discriminated against and one of the biggest victims in this movie. I mean it may be correct in this context, but people watching this film learn nothing about the Black Panthers at all. About who they really were.
The deeper moments are tolerable, but not as great as they are presented to us. SBC's character's statement on being prosecuted because of his thoughts on a brief occasion was still among the finest moments, also thanks to his line delivery. I am not unhappy he got the Oscar nomination. Actually fairly fitting even with how he plays a stand-up comedian, even if his character does not want to be called like that. The crucial moment in the end, not just the list of the fallen, is when we find out about the blood that Redmayne's character is talking about and who it actually belongs to. Oh well. That was okay, but still felt a bit clumsy and difficult to believe in terms of how assuring it was that he really meant their own blood. And not the blood of the enemy or the police. The moment in which JCL's character becomes violent and apologizes to his family and we are supposed to understand that this blatant injustice brings out violence in even the most peaceful man? Well, did feel a bit written. I am sure that, even if the character had such an outburst in reality (and if there is video evidence including said outburst),what he tells his son early on was mostly scripted. Oh and yes, this film, despite occasional flashbacks and scenes outside the courtroom, is really a full-on depiction of the trial here. I like courtroom drama, but I can see how it may be a bit much for some.
Let's talk a bit about the antagonist here. I don't mean the judge this time, but the prosecution. They are really evil, except JGL's character to some extent. Take a look at their dirty tricks to make sure some jurors have to leave. Or the idea with the undercover officer. Okay, she only belongs to them indirectly and actually is depicted as a smart woman. This is also where it became so obvious that they did not in any way want this film to have the slightest anti-female tendency with #metoo and everything still going on these days. She also develops some kind of liking for the defendants as we see during her face expression in the end and also how she will not leave the courtroom. As for the second woman, played by the stunning Alice Kremelberg, her perhaps biggest moment is when she gets an offensively racist call from people following the courtroom drama and those people are clearly right-wing (maybe far right-wing even) and they unleash in the most disgraceful and obscenes ways imaginable. Again, it felt more like about today's political climate than about the one back then. On a more positive side, SBC's "Daddy, why???" moment was perhaps the funniest thing I have come across all year in film. At the movie theater at least. Okay, I did not come across a lot, but I found this brief comment too funny and even had to smile from only thinking of it minutes afterwards. It was maybe these scenes that made it easy for Sacha Baron Cohen to get in at the Oscars. His successful second movie may have helped too, so they wanted to give him one acting nomination at least. Of course, also that his character here was not just a clown, but also pretty smart. Look at his Nixon comment or also when he clashes intellectually with Redmayne's character. But also what he had to say immediately afterwards made sure things are put into perspective again. His character just could not stay serious in the long run. Kinda sad to see he commited suicide eventually, even if it was many years later.
Overall, I was nicely entertained by this movie, but as I said this may also have to do with the fact that I like courtroom drama. Others may appreciate it less from this perspective. I am still fairly generous with my rating, because in my opinion this film and the exact outcome are definitely a lost opportunity. Lacks shades, lacks real authentic depth and as a consequence also lacks historic significance. Moments like the judge saying he has never beenn accused of being racist towards Blacks and what follows immediately afterwards may feel funny for a second, but if you look at it from a more neutral perspective, I must also say it really felt pretty gimmicky, maybe even in a way that had the film try to hide its (nonetheless obvious) shortcomings between shenigans like this. The more I think about this movie, the less I like it. Sad, but true. My rating on rewatch is certainly more likely to go down two stars. Literally no chance of going up and that's a pity because I think Sorkin here had a cast at his disposal that could have turned this film into something really extraordinary. I am not surprised though that liberal Hollywood (among others) ended up being a massive sucker for this film (also with the SAG Awards win for the ensemble) because it really fits the current political climate. In the end, from my unbiased perspective a close call, but for now I give the outcome a hesitant thumbs-up and positive recommendation. With other actors though and a different setting, it would not have been enough. The script gets a thumbs-down from me overall. You can watch this film if you like, but it's not close to a must-see. Not even remotely close.