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The Trial of the Chicago 7

Year: 2020
Production Co: Dreamworks
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, Mark Rylance, John Carroll Lynch, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Frank Langella, Michael Keaton, Caitlin Fitzgerald

Here's another great filmmaker cast to the winds of studios getting out of the drama business and throwing their lot in with superhero franchises, finding a home at what's becoming the most filmmaker-friendly movie studio in the world, Netflix.

The story is about an incident little known outside America (and owing to the political education of most Americans, probably inside it as well). It's 1968 and the Democratic Convention is happening in Chicago, various activists and groups intending to travel there to protest America's continued involvement in the Vietnam war.

The way Sorkin's script tells it the attorney general at the time, John Mitchell, wants a show trial to send a message to the hippies, civil rights groups and long haired music lovers the US government showed open contempt for at the time – civil disobedience wouldn't be tolerated. He instructs a team of prosecutors including Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon Levitt) to scoop up and indict whoever they can find that was there on the day with starting the violence the protests descended into.

Schultz and his partner follow their orders but do an on-the-level job, and the activists we've met in the opening stages are all dragged into court to face charges of inciting the riot months later. Among them are career activist Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Black Panthers leader Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who wasn't even in Chicago to take part, suburban dad David Dellinger (John Carrol Lynch) and smart-talking hippies Abby Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong).

Representing all but the incendiary Seale – whose lawyer has taken ill – is the forthright William Kunstler (Mark Rylance), trying to piece together what took place that night.

Through flashbacks we see the movements and actions of everybody involved. Hayden and his group are professional political activists, never intending to commit any opportunistic destruction or violence, but Hayden notices two cops following his partner, so he lets the air out of their tyres. When he's spotted and taken roughly in, Rubin and Hoffman lead a march to the police station to protest his confinement. The cops are lined up three deep with truncheons and clubs in a local park, spoiling for a fight and making the whole thing even more a powder keg than it is.

Undercover cops and FBI agents come to testify, pushing the case that the men on the stand started all the trouble, while Kunstler and his team try to counter and reveal that it was the trigger happy cops, miscommunication and fear that lit the match.

And it's all presided over by a senior judge, also called Hoffman (Frank Langella) who not only seems to be on the verge of dementia, it's obvious he has it in for the defendants from the get go. In fact he mistreats Seale so badly in response to the latter's protests about his representation and lack thereof his whole individual case is dismissed in a mistrial.

There are several pivotal, showstopping moments about the right to peaceful protest and political activism that are done with finesse rather than grand pronouncements from the rooftops while waving a flag – Cohen as class clown hippie Hoffman is a standout when he takes the stand and deftly articulates the prejudice and the civil rights at stake.

There's no prizes for guessing what side of the argument writer/director Sorkin is on from the early scenes, but there's a lot of nuance and he'll convince you a lot more than if it were some cack handed Hollywood liberal lecture.

Molly's Game was an incredible debut for the longtime writer, and here he's back on familiar and very comfortable territory – the courtroom – and his casting is perfect, everyone involved delivering his razor sharp script faultlessly.

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