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20 Oct 2020

Home Video Review: 'The Trial of the Chicago 7' Takes a Fascinating Historical Event and Makes It Boring

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Mark Rylance and Eddie Redmayne in The Trial of the Chicago 7. Mark Rylance and Eddie Redmayne in The Trial of the Chicago 7.

After a long period that once included Steven Spielberg announced as its director, The Trial of the Chicago 7 has finally seen the light of day, with writer Aaron Sorkin also directing, and a decent cast including Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne and Mark Rylance. Unfortunately, the cast can’t overcome a rote script.

The 1968 Democratic Convention was a real mess. Police clashed with protestors in Chicago, and seven people—including Abbie Hoffman (Cohen), Tom Hayden (Redmayne), Black Panther leader Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong)—ended up on trial for allegedly masterminding the madness.

Sorkin’s film re-creates the trial with a particularly strong performance by Rylance as defense attorney William Kunstler, going against prosecutor Richard Schultz, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Frank Langella plays prickly Judge Julius Hoffman—and the whole thing winds up being a standard courtroom drama, with some pretty bad wigs.

The riots are shown in flashback sequences and are far more effective than the courtroom scenes, which are hampered by predictable and schmaltzy dialogue. Langella’s role is a mixture of every tight-assed judge you’ve seen on screen before, while Levitt resorts to huffiness as Schultz. Only Rylance manages to rise above the clichés in the courtroom.

Cohen does his best as Hoffman, but he’s dragged down by a goofy wig and an even goofier accent. The film never really engages, in part because it lacks grit and wildness. As a result, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is homogenized moviemaking at its most boring.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is now streaming on Netflix.

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