It doesn’t escape me how strange it was to watch Aaron Sorkin’s Trail of the Chicago Seven in the same 12-hour period I watched Borat 2. Sacha Baron Cohen has been among the most interesting figures in film and tv for the past 20 years. When it comes to the non-scripted or semi-scripted content, he’s a performer unlike pretty much anything else in modern cinema, however that leads to little notice for his dramatic acting. The Trial of the Chicago Seven completely blitzes this perspective. Abbie Hoffman is an absolute presence in this film. An often irritating, always funny, misunderstood man who Eddie Redmayne’s Tom Hayden accurately predicts would massively influence how the left would be viewed for the next few decades, Baron Cohen performs the part wonderfully. Even with a tenuous accent, he conveys the inner workings of a complex person with true brilliance and goes to show that Baron Cohen is just someone who the camera seems to love.
In the past, Sorkin’s work has been noted for its stylistic qualities. The long tracking shots down hallways, the witty, unrealistic back and forth and the big swelling emotional speeches which almost read like a parody. This film does have these elements, but in a much more toned-down way. It has beautifully written dialogue, but not overwrought. It’s wonderfully shot, but not over-the-top, just simply made. I think the most outgoing element stylistically is the editing, it’s snappy and gives it great pace, it works with the film, rather than against it. Unlike a great deal of Sorkin’s work, it feels real.
It’s a type of film that’s been lost in time a bit. How often do we see proper courtroom dramas nowadays? But it’s executed perfectly, it hits the notes of a courtroom drama whilst never getting lost in itself. It always knows the point it’s making, about justice, freedom of speech, America and its misgivings. It’s a sensational piece of art, only worsened because when you actually read about the events it discusses, the villains are much more villainous, and the heroes much more heroic. This is a rare film that has to tone down the truth, because the reality is too incredible.