An absorbing recreation of late 1960s tension stemming from response to the Democratic National Convention held in Chicago is arguably the best work from Aaron Sorkin since The Social Network.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is very mature, articulate cinema with a keen pungency about the prosecution of left-wing activists (or radicals if you will) like Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) for conspiracy to incite rioting around the big event where Hubert Humphrey secured the nomination. Sorkin as director and scribe lays the groundwork with precision given what was happening on a federal and local level with Richard J. Daley mayor at the time.
Adept attorney William Kunstler (Mark Rylance of Bridge of Spies) has the unenviable tasking of defending against newbie prosecutor Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) with a bizarrely slanted judge Julis Hoffman (Frank Langella) presiding over the case. Black Panther honcho Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is there in the absence of a hospitalized lawyer.
The undulations during a tremulous period often have resonance in an often unnerving present. Heightened emotions are part of the eruptive content that sparks enough clarity through its convolutions. A rift emerges between Hoffman’s unkempt Yippies (also represented by Jeremy Strong) and Hayden’s more dapper Students for a Democratic Society (Alex Sharp is a leading colleague and best friend).
You appreciate what British thespian Cohen does here in his shadings of Hoffman in contrast to his nosy, deadpan reporter in Borat, for example. And, the performances are uniformly committed to all kinds of swirling mayhem with inherent vulgarity. Look for Michael Keaton as prominent human rights lawyer and Attorney General Ramsey Clark not without his controversy. A sizable set-up for Sorkin after Molly’s Game as he finds his (political) niche and mojo again.