I am a Wingnut. That is to say, a big fan of The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin’s drama about quixotic civil servants in a White House so earnest it makes my heart hurt a little. Naturally, I was excited to watch The Trial of the Chicago 7, a new drama written and directed by Sorkin, only to find that it was so Sorkinian that I rolled my eyes several times. I mean, a climactic scene comes down to improper use of possessive pronouns.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 dramatizes the trial of eight protesters against the Vietnam War who are indicted by the Justice Department for inciting a riot in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. The defendants have reason to believe that their trial is more about the politics of the new Nixon Administration than what actually happened in Chicago, but the truth is more complicated than it may seem. In several major ways, Sorkin embellishes the truth. He adds an undercover FBI agent involved with one of the defendants. He makes the ending more dramatic and satisfying than in real life. In other ways, the truth is just as bad as he depicts it. The judge in the case really was a terrible racist who violated the rights of the one black defendant, Bobby Seale.
I had never heard of this case before Sorkin’s movie, so I appreciate the history lesson—when it was accurate—and the witty style in which Sorkin gives it. Sorkin’s genius is with snappy dialogue and landing a story so that the language and the ideas really matter. He manages all of that with this film. My problem is that the film is often peak Sorkin by recycling material. In the most blatant example, he uses a joke with the punchline “one egg is un oeuf” which was used on The West Wing, too. Margaret told it.
That said, the characters are well drawn and they are portrayed in strong performances from the ensemble cast. Eddie Redmayne and Sacha Baron Cohen anchor the group with opposing viewpoints. Jeremy Strong is funny and weirdly charming in his role while John Carrol Lynch provides the group with an everyman quality. So much of what happened to Bobby Seale made me feel a little sick and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays the role with suitable gravitas. The weakest performance by far is by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as prosecutor Richard Schultz. The character is weakly written and Gordon-Levitt does further damage by not really doing anything with the conflict the lawyer feels over the case.
Overall, I enjoyed The Trial of the Chicago 7. It takes up heavy issues around policing, protest, patriotism, and the law, and delivers both stirring drama and comedic relief. Even if it was sometimes too earnest or on-the-nose, it was still clever and thoughtful.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 was written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. It runs 2 hours 9 minutes and is rated R for language, violence, bloody images, and drug use.
If you’re looking for something more lighthearted to get you in the mood for the holidays, I recommend Dash & Lily. This eight-episode romantic comedy starts with Dash (Austin Abrams) finding a notebook tucked between two J.D. Salinger books at his favorite bookstore, The Strand. The notebook begins a scavenger hunt between him and Lily (Midori Francis), the notebook’s owner, who is looking for someone to spend Christmas with after her parents ditch the family to go to Fiji.
Dash & Lily is clever and hip like Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist. It has a fun, whimsical approach that outweighs even its cringier teen drama moments or dorkier Christmas special impulses. The performance by Midori Francis is adorable and kept me watching when I found Austin Abrams’s Dash pretty grating. If you’re a fan of Hallmark Christmas movies specifically or romantic comedies more generally, this is a show for you.
Dash & Lily streams on Netflix for eight episodes. It was created by Joe Tracz, based on the novel Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn.
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