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The Trial of the Chicago 7 First Reviews: One of the Best Films of the Year

Critics say Aaron Sorkin's second film as director is sharply written – of course – and full of great performances, and should be an easy contender for Best Picture.

by | September 25, 2020 | Comments

Aaron Sorkin returns to the courtroom drama for The Trial of the Chicago 7, one of this season’s big awards frontrunners. The historical film, which depicts the titular multi-defendant case concerning the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests, is earning mostly positive reviews. Sorkin’s directorial talent, in only his second feature at the helm, is still up for debate, but the movie is primarily being praised for his writing and the performances by the ensemble cast, led by Sacha Baron Cohen portraying Yippie icon Abbie Hoffman. The movie is also, of course, the latest in a run of period pieces being highlighted for its timeliness in 2020.

Here’s what critics are saying about The Trial of the Chicago 7:


Could this be the Best Picture of 2020?

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the best film that the barren 2020 cinematic landscape has given way to.
– Kyle Pinion, ScreenRex

It’s one of this year’s very best films.
– Sean O’Connell, Cinema Blend

One of the best pictures to grace the screen in 2020.
– Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies

One of the best movies of the year.
– Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times


Will it satisfy Sorkin fans?

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is Sorkin at his Sorkinniest, in the good way.
Stephanie Zacharek, Time

While it certainty feels like an Aaron Sorkin film, it also doesn’t – there is a new edge to his work here.
Ben Rolph, Discussing Film

This is easily the most forceful piece of anti-systemic filmmaking of his career.
Kyle Pinion, ScreenRex

Aaron Sorkin at his most Sorkin-y somehow translates to him at his worst.
Matt Cipolla, The Film Stage


Aaron Sorkin on the set of The Trial of the Chicago 7
(Photo by Netflix)

Was he the right choice to direct his own script?

Sorkin does not seem like the obvious choice for telling the story of the Chicago 7, but his new movie… works to overcome Sorkin’s past rhetoric and deficiencies.
Matt Goldberg, Collider

If you had any doubts that Aaron Sorkin the director was incapable of living up to his screenwriting counterpart, The Trial of the Chicago 7 obliterates concern.
Robert Kojder, Flickering Myth

It’s hard not to wonder if a different filmmaker might have productively shifted the balance here, perhaps by treating his dazzling words as the movie’s skeleton, not its star.
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

It’s just frustrating to imagine how much better this could have been without Sorkin in the director’s chair.
Clint Worthington, Consequence of Sound

He’s definitely improving as a filmmaker…[but] would a different director have applied auteuristic flair to Sorkin’s masterful Chicago 7 script? Undoubtedly.
Sean O’Connell, Cinema Blend


So how is Sorkin’s directing?

The film is most notable for the way it goes in directions we haven’t seen from [Sorkin]… he emerges as an assured filmmaker whose style can be as propulsive as his words.
Steve Pond, The Wrap

Sorkin takes a rather dense, complicated court case and keeps it aloft every minute, as if he were following the aerodynamic principles of hang-gliding rather than moviemaking.
Stephanie Zacharek, Time

Aaron Sorkin captures the courtroom drama with electricity and the violence with horrifying albeit striking clarity and pain.
Robert Kojder, Flickering Myth

As a director, Sorkin hasn’t yet grasped how to meld personal drama and historical sweep into a cohesive whole.
Chris Barsanti, Slant Magazine

The filmmaking is in dire need of the same sort of fire and passion inherent in the performances.
Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm


The Trial of the Chicago 7
(Photo by Netflix)

But the writing is good, right?

With this being an Aaron Sorkin film, the words are the best part… the punches of his The Trial of the Chicago 7 script linger longer than his usual pacing.
Don Shanahan, 25YL

One of Sorkin’s great gifts as a storyteller is his ability to play with structure to great effect within his screenplays, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 is no exception.
Kyle Pinion, ScreenRex

The dialogue pops but rarely overlaps, the way it does in real life, because if it did, you wouldn’t be hearing the voice of Sorkin the screenwriter, with his perfectly engineered setups and comebacks.
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times


How is the cast?

There are so many stand-out performances here that I’ll be ruminating on them for a while.
Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies

Arguably the best ensemble acting showcase so far this year.
Don Shanahan, 25YL

The ensemble’s collective performance veers between being show-stopping and falling into parody.
Robert Daniels, The Playlist


Are there any standouts?

Abdul-Mateen, who just won an Emmy for Watchmen, deserves some serious Oscar consideration as Bobby.
Brian Truitt, USA Today

Major kudos to Abdul-Mateen II, fresh off his Emmy win for Watchman, in bringing an impassioned supporting turn to the screen.
Nate Adams, The Only Critic

In a film with wall-to-wall great performances, Rylance’s is the greatest, primarily because he manages to make his work here seem so natural.
Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm

[Michael] Keaton steals the show by slowing the rapid-fire Sorkin dialogue down to a crawl; he makes you lean in for every word.
Steve Pond, The Wrap

Truly, there is not a single performance that stands out over another as each one is amplified and balanced by those around them.
Douglas Davidson, Elements of Madness


The Trial of the Chicago 7
(Photo by Netflix)

How is Sacha Baron Cohen?

Sacha Baron Cohen is a revelation.
Rubin Safaya, Cinemalogue

Cohen [gives] the finest performance of his career.
Kyle Pinion, ScreenRex

It’s Baron Cohen’s best performance ever.
Helen O’Hara, Empire Magazine

One of the best performances of his career… his take on the freewheeling Abbie Hoffman proves a terrific showcase for the Borat star.
Nate Adams, The Only Critic

It’s Cohen’s Hoffman — kooky and calculated all at once — who really elevates the movie whenever it starts to feel like a routine.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire


By contrast, what about Jeremy Strong?

His performance is meant to be hammy, [but] by not even sounding like Rubin, he reduces the actual whip-smart man into a Cheech and Chong impression.
Robert Daniels, The Playlist

Strong gives arguably the weakest performance in a solid array of talent, his line delivery leaning at times toward the Cheech and Chong end of the spectrum.
Ty Burr, Boston Globe

The actor, unfortunately, decides to adopt a voice that makes him sound exactly like Tommy Chong.
Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm

Strong is as quirky as it gets, one is bound to love this lovable and soulful act.
Ben Rolph, Discussing Film

Strong is terrific and serves as a scene-stealer throughout.
Chris Bumbray, JoBlo


The Trial of the Chicago 7
(Photo by Netflix)

Is the movie accurate?

As a history lesson, it plays more than a little fast and loose.
Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

It’s a Hollywoodized recounting… Sorkin can’t resist manufacturing little arcs and dramatic payoffs, even when they contradict what we know about these men.
A.A. Dowd, AV Club

It’s the little details Chicago 7 messily gets wrong.
Robert Daniels, The Playlist

It was wilder than this. It was worse than this… soak up historical perspective, but then go read further official accounts and records afterward.
Don Shanahan, 25YL


Does it resonate anyway?

It’s as much about the constitutional American right to protest as it is about justice, which makes it incredibly relevant to where we are today.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

Far from being a historical drama, Sorkin’s star-studded howl at injustice feels like a particularly eloquent news bulletin.
Helen O’Hara, Empire Magazine

It adds up to something that could scarcely be more relevant: a salute to what political freedom in America really means.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety

Sorkin, who wrote the script in 2007, understands that the story being told here is never not timely.
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

A period piece for multiple periods: The drama takes place in the ’60s, has the rousing flavor of a ‘90s popcorn thriller and also feels relevant and urgent in 2020.
Brian Truitt, USA Today

The drama feels confined to the trial itself rather than taking a macro view of how this event shaped America or how it reflects our current situation.
Matt Goldberg, Collider

The conclusions of the film are generally accepted today. This leaves audiences wondering why the film was made today, and not a decade ago.
Alan French, We Live Entertainment


The Trial of the Chicago 7
(Photo by Netflix)

What if we just want to be entertained?

So pleasurable in the execution that you’ll want to watch it again upon its ending.
Douglas Davidson, Elements of Madness

Watching The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a little like reading Dickens: much of the fun lies in picking up on the signals of individual characters.
Stephanie Zacharek, Time

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is kind of a feel-good movie, and yet there’s not much to feel uplifted about when you look at how institutional power responds to protest.
Matt Goldberg, Collider

Even if The Trial of the Chicago 7 qualifies as catnip for Oscar voters, it’s a juicy courtroom drama, a sweeping ’60s panorama, an epic of liberal hand wringing and an all-you-can-eat actors’ buffet rolled into one.
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times


The Trial of the Chicago 7 opens in select theaters on September 25, 2020 and streams on Netflix on October 16, 2020.

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