The Trial Of The Chicago 7

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Aaron Sorkin is Hollywood’s least radical liberal filmmaker and his The Trial Of The Chicago 7 (2020) may just be his most “Aaron Sorkin” film. At every opportunity characters are walking and talking, male camaraderie abounds, patriotic music cues underscore every pivotal moment, and there’s more than enough neoliberal grandstanding to satisfy a dozen Stanley Kramer pictures. Clearly Sorkin cares about the United States.

So it’s puzzling why he made certain changes to the historical record of this landmark event in American history presumably for dramatic effect. In real life Bobby Seale was gagged for far longer and repeatedly broke free of his bonds. In Sorkin’s version of events Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is bound briefly, never breaks free, and then has his case separated from the Chicago 7’s. Why does Sorkin let “the man” win in this situation when it didn’t go down that way? Why, in the wake of the events of the summer of 2020 would any filmmaker choose not to show Seale break free of his gag?

This offense was the most troubling to me, though rest assured there are plenty more. Historical inaccuracies are part of the process of reenacting historical events for dramatic effect. But when these inaccuracies indicate an unwillingness of the filmmaker to embrace their political environment or worse, a desire to not offend certain movie-going demographics I become concerned. Sorkin’s Capra-esque patriotism is more of the political center than he makes it out to be.

The Trial Of The Chicago 7 feels like a big budget television film like Frankenheimer’s George Wallace (1997). It’s a terrific showcase for the ensemble cast (except for the always abominable Eddie Redmayne) that lacks any authentic cinematographic sensibility. Sorkin is a master of the teleplay, but he’s not even the least bit cinematic as a director. The Social Network (2010) really benefitted from David Fincher’s direction which epitomizes all of the instincts that Sorkin lacks as a filmmaker.

The Trial Of The Chicago 7 is essential history and has a relevance today one cannot underestimate. However, there are numerous documentaries and fiction films about those events and the people involved that are far more engaging, informative, and cinematic. What Sorkin’s picture has going for it is its contagiously sentimental approach to American history.