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COLUMN: Aaron Sorkin's ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ disappoints


Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong star as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin in "The Trial of the Chicago 7." Movie Stills Database

I’m pretty sure I like Aaron Sorkin. While I haven’t seen all the movies he’s written, I’ve really liked most of the ones I’ve watched. “The Social Network” and “Steve Jobs” are two of my favorite movies of the last decade, and I even enjoyed “Molly’s Game.” 

Sorkin’s writing style is famous at this point, and anyone who has seen a couple of his movies will instantly be able to recognize when they’re watching something he penned. He writes the sharpest jabs, the quickest comebacks and the longest monologues. It’s a lot of fun when done well, but not so much when it’s done badly. 

This one is the latter. 

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is about the titular Chicago 7, a group of protesters who were put on trial for supposedly inciting the riots that occurred at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. It’s a perfect Sorkin vehicle, with plenty of room for jabs, comebacks and monologues. It is also bad. 

While Sorkin has been a writer for decades, he’s only recently broken into directing. The first feature he was credited as director for was “Molly’s Game,” a movie where the directing just so happened to be one of the weakest aspects. This is also the case with “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” It’s just so bland. There’s nothing I can point to that’s creative about its presentation, and sometimes there are even decisions which actively work against the intention of scenes. 

Sorkin’s writing is another weak link for the film. When I called his writing style “famous” earlier, I probably should have called it “infamous” instead. While it can be, and very often is, very enjoyable to watch, it can also be executed terribly. Even in his better movies, it can come across as really preachy and even a little annoying. Some of the showier moments in this film are just ridiculous. At one point, a character slams a book down on a table and I actually laughed. It is just so random and over the top. 

One part I was really excited for was the cast, which is filled to the brim with some of the best actors working today. Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne and Joseph Gordon-Levitt all have sizable parts in the film. But most of them are really poorly cast. I struggle to see how Cohen, a British guy in his late 40s, is supposed to be believable as a hippie who was in his early 30s during the events of the film. Other than John Carroll Lynch, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Michael Keaton, I don’t think any of the actors do a good job. 

My least favorite part of the movie is how unsubtle it is. While I was watching it felt like Sorkin was screaming at me about how great these people were, leaving no room for debate or discussion. This is perfectly summed up by the ending, which is so cheesy I could barely believe it. It is like something out of a "Saturday Night Live" skit. 

But it simultaneously feels like “The Trial of the Chicago 7” has nothing to say. I think the message is about how America does some really bad stuff, especially when it comes to law enforcement, but it doesn’t offer any solution. At least propaganda has some sort of purpose. This just feels hollow. 

I don’t want to get too political, but I think it’s worth saying that I do personally hold a lot of admiration for the Chicago 7. I think they’re a perfect example of exactly what is wrong with America’s law enforcement and justice systems. And I suppose I’m grateful that “The Trial of the Chicago 7” will bring more attention to these individuals and their story. 

I just wish it would’ve been a better movie. 

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