The Trial of the Chicago 7’ Review: They Fought the Law


Aaron Sorkin and an all-star cast re-enact a real-life ’60s courtroom drama with present-day implications.Anyone who has been paying attention to the news recently might conclude that Karl Marx was wrong. History doesn’t repeat itself, and it’s usually tragedy and farce at the same time.

“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Aaron Sorkin’s snappy, sloppy re-enactment of a famous real-life slice of American political courtroom drama, understands that the somber and the ridiculous have a habit of becoming entwined. (It’s in theaters on Friday but will be on Netflix next month.) Some of the film’s unwieldiness, as well as its energy, comes from the way it combines banana-peel gags with lectures on the nutritional importance of potassium. (That’s a metaphor. The characters like to point out when they’re using metaphors.) There’s a lot of deadly serious stuff in here — about war and peace, justice and racism, democracy and order — and a fair bit of silliness as well, some of it intentional.

It’s possible that the ’60s were really like that. On the other hand, an Aaron Sorkin movie rarely has much to do with what anything was really like. This isn’t meant dismissively. Sorkin has never been a realist. His sensibility is rhetorical, theatrical, argumentative. He’s a master of big speeches and sitcom beats, of walk-and-talk dialectics, of earnest mansplaining and liberal wishful thinking. He gave us “The West Wing” on television and “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Broadway, for goodness’ sake. Showmanship in the service of high civic purpose is his thing.

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