“The whole world is watching” shouted the crowd, as the police attacked the innocent women and children with weapons that left many injured. “The whole world is watching” whispered through the air, as a racist judge denied a Black man his constitutional right of due process and verbally and physically abused him in the courtroom. “The whole world is watching” echoed society, as politics were introduced to the case while justice was forgotten.
The Trial of the Chicago 7, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, is a retelling of the courtroom events that followed the Chicago protests during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The protest was geared at gaining the attention of the media in support of ending the U.S. involvement in Vietnam but gained national focus due to the violence that sparked between the protesters and the police. This film was originally under the supervision of Paramount Pictures before being acquired as a Netflix original after the shutdown of theaters in the U.S.
Going into this 130-minute history lesson, the overall feel was this would be a 12 Angry Men experience (at least in regards to how the story would be told). Knowing the actual transcripts of the case were used in writing the dialogue for the film, I expected it to solely take place in the courtroom. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see numerous scenes and depictions of the awful police brutality during the protests. Additionally, there are also chunks of this film that took place before the protests.
The two aspects this film nailed masterfully were in its writing and acting. While Sorkin has always been a fantastic writer, the setting of this film and the historical accuracy of it contributed to the energetic and moving dialogue and the screenplay he has created. The ways in which he writes certain characters and their interactions with others often gives tense feelings to the viewers and even elicits anger toward one particular character.
The writing also doesn’t shy away from racial subjects, and by doing so gives a more realistic look at the ways in which laws can discriminate against certain people or situations. In partnership with the editing, Sorkin’s writing handles time, and setting jumps, beautifully as the events in focus take place over a two year period.
The writing is only one side of the masterful coin that this film is, for the acting stands above any film in recent memory. The cast of this film includes Eddie Redmayne (Tom Hayden), Sacha Baron Cohen (Abbie Hoffman), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Richard Schultz), Jeremy Strong (Jerry Rubin), Mark Rylance (William Kunstler), John Carroll Lynch (David Dellinger) and Michael Keaton (Ramsey Clark). While each of these actors is given at least one monologue (and some are given many) in which they express their unbelievable range of acting, there are two performances that stand above all else: Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale.
Langella and Abdul-Mateen II are magnificent in their performances, partly because their best moments come when they are, figuratively, at each other’s necks. Langella portrays the judge of the case, who is clearly motivated to act on behalf of the government and not on the side of truth and justice. The way Langella shows the cold, cruel racism of the judge is mind-numbing, as the viewers will have plenty of moments in which they become angry at the cynical judge.
On the other side of this relentless confrontation, Abdul-Mateen II is riveting as the man who has no reason to be on this trial. The circumstances surrounding his situation only feed into this performance, as the actor forces the viewers to experience disgust with the legal system and with the government itself.
Above all else, this film is timely and essential viewing before the upcoming election. Don’t get me wrong: while this film is political, it is not political in the sense that it will convince you that one political party is wrong while the other is right. On the contrary, this film highlights how corrupt the government can be across all parties and how this corruption can be witnessed across all presidents since the setting of this film.
Overall, when combining the average success of the directing and the score with magnificent writing, acting, and editing, this film secures its place as one of the best, if not the best, films of the year.