The Trial of the Chicago 7 is Netflix’s next must-watch movie

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (L-R) YAHYA ABDUL-MATEEN II as BOBBY SEALE, BEN SHENKMAN as LEONARD WEINGLASS, MARK RYLANCE as WILLIAM KUNTSLER, EDDIE REDMAYNE as TOM HAYDEN, ALEX SHARP as RENNIE DAVIS. NICO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX © 2020.
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (L-R) YAHYA ABDUL-MATEEN II as BOBBY SEALE, BEN SHENKMAN as LEONARD WEINGLASS, MARK RYLANCE as WILLIAM KUNTSLER, EDDIE REDMAYNE as TOM HAYDEN, ALEX SHARP as RENNIE DAVIS. NICO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX © 2020. /
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Watch The Trial of the Chicago 7 from Aaron Sorkin on Netflix

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a comfortable courtroom drama made palpable for people of all ages.

Anyone who’s set eyes on footage from the events that transpired in Chicago circa August 1968 can see that a police riot took place. The Walker Report clarified something that shouldn’t have needed clarifying – with regards to who was to blame for the violence, it sure looked and quacked like a duck. And yet, here we are again 52 summers later: people are again tentative to be in the right, even as video upon video pile up of the police and National Guard beating and injuring protesters, journalists, and countless others whom, against these unprecedented circumstances, insist that their voices be heard.

According to Aaron Sorkin, as illustrated in his movie The Trial of the Chicago 7, out on Netflix since Friday, these voices most loudly yell about the right side of history: “the whole world is watching.”

It’s a repeated phrase in the movie that truthfully reflects the past (an exception in a long line of historical inaccuracies that Sorkin seemingly prides himself on fabricating), yet rings antiquated in its parallels to today’s society. The Trial of the Chicago 7 often succeeds in theatrically depicting a potent, prescient moment in our history as a nation, even as it deadlegs itself in its attempts to translate to our current perspectives on morality.

Set in the aftermath of the anti-war protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, The Trial of the Chicago 7 reimagines the court proceedings of the seven defendants who were charged with conspiracy and inciting a riot. Most notably, the defendants included yippies Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), students Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), boy scout leader David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), and Black Panther member Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), whose case was eventually separated from the others’. Few of the defendants had even met one another, and the case was widely seen (as is outwardly stated in the movie) as a political trial, an attempt by the Nixon administration to subvert the momentum of leftist activist groups against the Vietnam War.

The structure of the Netflix movie follows numerous flashpoints during the months-long trial, assisted by restaged flashbacks to the Chicago protests. And as this is Sorkin, there are plenty of manipulations of time, character, and scenario that push this movie far beyond biopic format. This is all good and well – Sorkin excels at bending the truth to craft multi-pronged dramatic “ramp-up” scenes that rope you in and never let go. But also as this is Sorkin, the script is the most important puzzle piece of the movie, and its tendency to zero in on the discrepancies and infighting between the leftist defendants read as missing the forest for the trees.

It’s an easy crutch for Sorkin to lean on. His screenplays are most interesting (and by congruence, fun) when they offset high-energy verbal skirmishes with low-stakes environmental conceits. Facebook, Apple, and an underground poker empire are crucial to understanding the disposition of American culture, yes, but The Trial of the Chicago 7 puts peoples’ lives and constitutional rights in the balance of the drama. Sorkin is best at dramatizing the spectrums of good and bad, but the issue here is simply clear-cut, and it ultimately exposes this movie’s severe lack of “why now?” As the American popular vote can attest, there’s no “right side of history” anymore – just “the right side.”

Luckily, Sorkin enlists a strong bench of actors and employs unobtrusive direction to support the script’s tepidity. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II delivers a particularly compelling, while short-lived, performance as the defendant treated most unjustly by the biased and racist Chicago judicial system, whose surrogate is portrayed by the steely Frank Langella in the form of notorious judge Julius Hoffman. Mark Rylance’s Kuntsler, Jeremy Strong’s Rubin, and Michael Keaton’s Clark deserve shoutouts, as do notable bit players Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ben Shenkman, and John Doman.

As one of Netflix’s most anticipated releases this year, The Trial of the Chicago 7 primarily operates as a centrist crowd-pleaser, a comfortable courtroom drama made palpable for people of all ages. You’ll see political arguments. You’ll see people put in contempt of court. You’ll probably see your parents texting you about how good it was. All of these come with the territory. But as we have seen, and as we continue to see, sometimes the territory deserves to be dug up and re-landscaped entirely.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is on Netflix now.

Next. 50 best Netflix movies to watch right now. dark