I will start out by saying Aaron Sorkin is one of the most acclaimed storytellers of our time and I believe his dialogue is some of the best put to screen. What I will also say is that he really enjoys dramatizing true events to make sure they meet his dramatic standards.
From the start of Facebook (‘The Social Network’) to Celebrity Poker Games (‘Molly’s Game’) all the way up to the presidency (‘The West Wing (TV)’), Sorkin has something meaningful to say every time but I believe this is the first film that truly benefits from his staging.
Set in 1969, the Trial of the Chicago 8, as it was labelled by the media, involved seven protestors who were believed to initiate a riot based during an Anti-Vietnam War protest and one Black Panther member who had nothing to do with the other seven on trial.
Bobby Seale, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (‘Aquaman’ ‘Watchmen (TV)’) was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and was represented as part of the case to scare the jury with his involvement with the Black Panther Movement. Seale made it known early and often that he had nothing to do with the other members but was heavily ignored by the unstable Judge Hoffman, Frank Langella (‘Kidding (TV)’, ‘Frost/Nixon’).
I mention Seale before the other figures because his story was the most effective compared to others. They were being tried for their actions, as he was being tried for the color of his skin. Abdul-Mateen plays the characterization perfectly with the right amount of anger and fear. He’s living in a world where he’s judged before he does anything, and this feeling is just as timely now as it was in 1968.
The other performances are great throughout as this is benefits heavily as an ensemble film. Even though Eddie Redmayne (‘Fantastic Beasts series’, ‘The Theory of Everything’) and Sacha Baron Cohen (‘Borat’, ‘The Spy (TV)’) are the headliners, this wouldn’t be as good without standout performances by Langella, Mark Rylance (‘Bridge of Spies’, ‘Ready Player One’), Jeremy Strong (‘Succession (TV)’, ‘Molly’s Game’), and Michael Keaton (‘Spotlight’, ‘Birdman’).
Editor Alan Baumgarten (‘American Hustle’, ‘Charlie’s Angels’) keeps the cuts quick and steady and seems to dig into his action background when it comes to the conversation. Baumgarten edits the courtroom scene like an action film with each argument feeling like a gun fight and the words hitting like bullets.
I knew this trial by name, but never researched it as much as I did after watching this film. The moments that I felt proud of in the film, never happened in real life and the moments that were too insane to be real were true. There’s one scene that involves Seale that was so scary, that I believe may be on the list of scariest movie moments of 2020.