The Trial of Chicago 7
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen
Aaron Sorkin, like Shakespeare, is essentially a playwright. And he would’ve exclusively been one, I’m pretty sure, if film wasn’t invented at all. All he ever needs to create terrific conflict/drama and build on mood, are kickass lines, killer situations, plus characters, of course. That’s all. No bells and whistles. His material could work just as well on stage, if not as an audio series. You do wanna hear it though.
Which is among the reasons why he’s managed to pull off a casting storm here, that looks nothing short of Marvel Cinematic Universe of current heavy-duty actors—brilliantly playing off each other. Just glance through the credits— Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Keaton, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mark Rylance…
I mean, seriously, who would pass on a chance to perform Sorkin’s dialogues with razor-sharp wit, to start with. As a pithy word-player, he’s basically America’s Javed Akhtar (which is a conversation for another day). And this has been the case ever since television’s iconic West Wing creator, IMO the world’s most emotionally rich (stand-alone) screenwriter, made a name for himself with Rob Reiner’s A Few Good Men (1992), that he wrote as a theatrical production first.
Check out the trailer of The Trial of the Chicago 7 here:
It was also a courtroom drama, like The Trial of the Chicago 7 (of course). But the sort of clear and present tension this film generates—so you can hear a roar in your head as an audience, or sense a smile on your face—would be lost on any other medium (including TV). There is zero relief. Hardly a sub-plot. Instant set-up. 100 per cent payback. Two hours’ straight. Eye-balls going nowhere.
For this, you have to singularly credit Sorkin, in his role now as a film director, although his intentions as a screenwriter, especially with true-life stories such as this (or Social Network) have been the same, all along. From a single court-room (and there can’t be any other) for a primary setting, the film cuts between indoor and outdoor locations. You follow the camera like a fly, zooming in on multiple characters, smartly interrupting each other’s lines and perspectives—for what’s essentially a terrific one-act play. As a movie, it’s a seriously sweaty experience. And yet, there’s such firm grip over only what’s happening in that one room.
What’s happening, exactly? Seven men are up against the state, or the ruling party at the time, to be more precise. Because they once protested against the government—chiefly over Vietnam War drafts, outside a political convention. The cowardly, hence ruthless state, despite its monopoly over violence, must make protesters pay for this embarrassment. Although the large groups were essentially demonstrating peacefully/unarmed. There is perhaps a precedence to be set. It’s from a time, as the movie’s poster puts it best, when “democracy refused to back down!”
Who are these men, again? Motley crew of activists with little in common besides their wish to change the world—and multiple/separate ways to express their anger, or show they care. How do you knock such varied folk into the same box? Well, you frame a punishment first, and then go looking for a crime to fit into it, I guess.
Yes we’ve heard of witnesses turning hostile. What if the judiciary itself does—how does the defendant crumble before the state’s dirty tricks’ department? America, among other things I learnt through this film, also has its own draconian/regressive (Rap Brown) laws. It’s not just a Third World, post-colonial, brown-nation thing.
A great film, it’s often said, reflects the times we live in. Equally, as in this case, if it picks up from another time, and proves to you that times are really the same. That they merely repeat themselves—’bande badalte hain, funday wahi rehte hain (powers change, their predispositions don’t)—it shakes you up with a sense of recognition in ways that nothing can.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is quite simply that film. As a political drama, it might ring closer to Costa Gavras’s Z (1969), set around a right-wing, military-dominated government in Greece (remade in Hindi as Dibakar Bannerjee’s Shanghai). This one is placed in Chicago, 1968. Clearly, that’s not the reason I’ve been feeling visceral horror in my head. There is in fact no movie I’ve seen over at least half a decade that I’ve felt, with every scene, sequence, dialogue, that it’s just waiting to be remade in India. Would Netflix, please? Hmmm…. Parallels are hard to miss. You only have to see it for yourself to know what I’m talking about—JNU, Jamia, North East Delhi, Bhima Koregaon…. And, of course, see, you must. Right away, in fact.
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