I wish I knew how to quit Aaron Sorkin. I know that he has an ego. And that he writes dialogue in a way that is not even a little realistic. And that he either fabricates real life events or completely simplifies them in a lot of his scripts. But there is just something about the way that he writes that I love. It is funny, sarcastic, self-serious, overly saccharine at times. It follows a certain rhythm that makes it flow like a river but with the ferocity of rapids. In short, I love Aaron Sorkin and I love his new film, The Trial of the Chicago 7.
Based on a True Story
The Trial of the Chicago 7 tells the true story of seven people on trial for their part in the 1968 Chicago riots. In response to the presumed democratic nominee, protests had been planned at the Democratic National Convention that summer. Due to law enforcement and government officials preventing their attempts at a lawful, peaceful protest, it turned into something much more violent.
Top Notch Acting & Writing
The seven people on trial come from various backgrounds. Some are the quintessential anti-war hippies (Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong). Some are more formal (John Carroll Lynch and Eddie Redmayne). One is a member of the Black Panther Party (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). And the final two are explained as buffers. To make the jury feel okay for convicting some of them, but not these two.
If you weren’t already convinced of the caliber of this cast based on some of the names within those parentheses, allow me to expand. In addition to the aforementioned stars, it’s a who’s who line-up. You have Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Michael Keaton, and Mark Rylance rounding out the ensemble. It is an all star cast and, some rough accent work aside, they are all putting in great work.
As is common in many Sorkin screenplays, The Trial of the Chicago 7 hops back and forth between timelines. One presents the titular trial, while the events that the trial is based on play out in the other. Just as it did in The Social Network, this helps to keep the story fresh.
Giving us an idea of what happened during those fateful August days is crucial to following the trial. We are given the freedom to view the events and make our own determination regarding their role in the uprising. It helps to give a better understanding of how prosecutors used that information against the seven and how they were defended.
How “True” is the Story?
Despite finding a lot to enjoy about the film, it is not without its flaws. Its most glaring is a flaw of many Sorkin films and I alluded to it at the beginning of this review. Even though this film is based on real life events, there are major aspects that either did not happen the way they are presented, are oversimplified, or did not happen at all.
Every movie based on true events is subject to creative interpretation. It is never wise to go into a “based on a true story” type of movie assuming that you will have a complete and accurate understanding of the topic when the credits roll. I have no inherent problem with changing the way life worked out for dramatic effect. I do have a bit of an issue with it when several of the film’s biggest moments are fabricated.
Part of the reason they work so well is because the viewer is thinking, “wow, I can’t believe that happened!” When the viewer does some research after the movie and finds out that those events didn’t happen, it takes all the wind out of the sails. When written well, a movie should stand on its own. But when the movie proudly declares that it’s based on a true story, then changes significant details or completely makes up others, it loses its luster.
Still Worth a Watch
Even with these complaints, I can’t pretend like I didn’t enjoy the movie. The dialogue, though overwrought at times, is just as fun and snappy as we have come to expect from Sorkin. The editing is quick and flashy and makes certain that viewers are never bored. It’s a story that I knew very little about going in and now feel like I have a general understanding. The courtroom structure is reminiscent of a time gone by. Which makes sense, given Sorkin worked his magic in a similar setting for A Few Good Men. Despite feeling a little old fashioned, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a real crowd-pleaser of a movie.