The Trial of the Chicago 7: a spoiler-free review

Caroline Dowd, Features/A&E Editor

On October 16, Netflix released The Trial of the Chicago 7. The film was written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, known for The Social Network and The West Wing, and features a large ensemble cast with the likes of Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Joseph Gordon Levitt. The movie chronicles the 1969 trial of the infamous Chicago Seven: a group of anti-war activists charged with inciting violence and conspiracy against the U.S. government in Chicago. 

I enjoyed the film. I’m a huge fan of Sorkin’s quick-witted writing style and I think it worked well for the courtroom scenes which could have been extremely tedious with any other writer. To my understanding, the depiction of the trial is not completely historically accurate. This comes as no surprise, as most people wouldn’t watch a movie that recreates a high-profile criminal trial word for word. 

In my opinion, the standout performances were those of Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Rylance, who played activist Abbie Hoffman and defense counsel William Kunstler, respectively. The beauty of Baron Cohen’s performance came in how purely annoying he was. Abbie Hoffman continually interrupted court proceedings and was later charged with contempt of court and Baron Cohen perfectly embodies Hoffman’s cannabis-induced disobedience. Mark Rylance’s Kunstler is a strong anchoring point for the defense team and his calm yet decisive approach to the trial easily made him my favorite character. 

I have seen the film criticized for having lengthy courtroom sequences but that’s exactly what the story is about: a trial. And an important one at that. Many of the characters in the film were instrumental in the real life anti war and Civil Rights movements of the 60s and 70s. 

The movie is definitely worth a watch. The themes of civil disobedience, the right to protest and equality are just as relevant in 2020 as they were in 1969 and the film does a wonderful job of showing the human side of conflict. Overall, I would give The Trial of the Chicago 7 four out of five stars for its talented cast, witty writing, and simple direction.