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  • Writer's pictureDavid Osgar

Rylance Vs Langella- The Trial of the Chicago 7

Aaron Sorkin sure does love a courtroom drama, doesn't he? A truth he simply would have to handle...

Alas, another film destined for the big screen but plans altered due to a certain pandemic. But as has been the narrative many times this year, streaming comes to the rescue. This time we have Netflix to thank for bringing us this historical drama from second-time director Aaron Sorkin, most known for his award-winning screenplays.

Mark Rylance, Ben Shenkman, Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in The Trial of the Chicago 7

Making his directorial debut with 2017's Molly's Game, Aaron Sorkin has been a big name in Hollywood, and entertainment for many years, making his film writing debut with fellow legal drama A Few Good Men in 1992.

In recent years Sorkin has focused mainly on biopics and stories involving the law, making Sorkin the go-to guy for this kind of drama. The Trial of the Chicago 7 presents itself as another modern history story in the same wheelhouse as films like Vice, Spotlight, and 2019's Just Mercy. Like those and many other big-screen projects of recent years, the film gives us a damning image of the US judicial system, and the country's politics, much of which sadly hasn't changed since the late 60s in which this story takes place.

As the title suggests, the film is largely an ensemble piece with Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman and Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden acting as the main leads, the latter of which is possibly best left with a more underwritten role, considering Redmayne's image amongst viewers in recent years.

While starting off somewhat shaky despite the groovy rock n' roll soundtrack, Aaron Sorkin soon draws you into the story and it's rearranged series of events, that are typical of historic dramas such as this. The film focuses largely on the aftermath of a protest involving the Chicago Seven who are objecting to the Vietnam War, leading to the group being charged for conspiracy and intention to start a riot.

Though the cast is too large to list off one by one, its size and calibre is certainly impressive. From Joseph Gordon-Levitt to even Michael Keaton, the production's bingo call of award-nominated actors can often play as simple awards fodder, but in a year of substantially less star power, it's more of a welcome sight. Each appearance adds to the prestige, and importance of each character, truly demonstrating how a shortened story such as this can tell a lot without necessarily adding extra scenes or dialogue.

Frank Langella in The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

Two of the biggest standouts are definitely Mark Rylance as the calm and level headed lawyer William Kunstler, and Frank Langella as the foolish and incompetent Julius Hoffman (bearing no relation to Cohen's Abbie Hoffman). The two characters juxtapose each other perfectly, with Rylance bringing his A-game as always, giving us passion, anger, and wit. Langella, on the other hand, gives us the perfect character to hate and represent the chaos of America's first "political trial".

The legacy actor's certainly are one of the strongest aspects of this story, but The Trial of the Chicago 7's biggest problem is in its less realistic performances from Cohen as Abbie Hoffman and Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin. Both actors do serviceable jobs but often distract with their wonky accents and more clichéd depictions.

The script powers along at a great pace, showcasing the farce of the trial, and its nature as an unwinnable challenge, while also suffering from its tendency to try and find stakes and tension where there are little due to it's rearranged events.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 may not be up there with the best historical dramas, but the powerful scenes and strong messages are never-the-less the film's greatest strengths. The emotion and drama of the courtroom, especially when it comes to two stand-out moments involving Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and John Carroll Lynch as David Dellinger, certainly stick with you after the credits roll and are once again a haunting reflection of America and our world today.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a strong, and often powerful film, which is not without its faults, which if you can overcome may just give you one of 2020's better film experiences.

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