The Trial of the Chicago 7

By Joanna Langfield

We’ve earned this.

Of course it’s delightful to get to watch a snappy courtroom drama, offering some terrific actors, all getting a chance to shine, but, as he often does, Aaron Sorkin has a lot more on his mind. Looking back at the notorious events of 1968, Sorkin takes every opportunity to remind us that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

Maybe the structure’s a bit clumsy, maybe the ratatat pacing of pithy dialogue might be a challenge for some, but this highly theatrical retelling still makes its mark. Many might need to be reminded of the political intentions of protests that rocked the Democratic Convention, when a group of very different, but ultimately likeminded men organized a group rally to protest the war in Vietnam. And they might also need to see that the charges and trial that aimed to imprison them had their own set of vengeful problems. Have we learned anything from all of this? Watching through the prism of 2020, one might not be wrong to wonder.

Now for the fun part. It’s signature Sorkin. It’s smart, brisk and very entertaining. What I loved was watching some actors get to stretch their wings a bit, notably Sacha Baron Cohen, delightful as Abbie Hoffman and Eddie Redmayne, a solid and imperfect Tom Hayden. Mark Rylance, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Frank Langella are all a treat, but perhaps my favorite surprise is Jeremy Strong’s Jerry Rubin, where he’s almost unrecognizable, yet a funny and a heart breakingly sweet foil to Cohen’s historically correct, more attention grabbing, Hoffman.

“The whole world is watching” we are told, as the events of this trial unfold before us. We can’t help but get the message, Sorkin and company insuring its lesson is not just to entertain, but inspire.