“There are civil trials and there are criminal trials. There’s no such thing as a political trial”. The Chicago 7’s lawyer is about to realise just how wrong he is. The second directorial feature from Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7 centres on seven anti-Vietnam War protestors and Black Panther Party leader Bobby Seale, all charged with conspiracy to incite violence following the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Faced with a hostile judge and the full weight of the Republican administration behind the prosecution, the defendants’ fates seem sealed from the start.

There is very little doubt that Sorkin is a remarkable screenwriter. There is a dynamism to his dialogue that is almost unparalleled: quick-fire exchanges, weighty monologues and narrative beats laid down with a precision that is near lyrical. Yet for all its technical zing, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is politically flat, a revolution quashed by Sorkin’s inescapable liberalism. Seale – played to perfection by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II – serves largely to illustrate the unconscionable behaviour of the judge and, after he is ordered to be bound and gagged with no counsel present, the ethical quandary of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s prosecution. Absent are the radical politics of the Black Panther Party, absent too is the horrifying aftermath of American neo-imperialism in Vietnam. In Sorkinland, a whip-smart retort is all the moral accountability needed.

There has arguably never been a time when Sorkin’s myopic idealism has not grated – how hollow must The West Wing’s ode to Bill Clinton ring to the communities criminalised by Clinton’s administration? Yet in 2020, when the world is burning, Sorkin’s stubborn insistence that rhetoric and respectability are the basis for political change is not only laughable, but incredibly baffling. The whole world is watching Aaron Sorkin, and they are waiting for him to wake up.



CAST: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, Jeremy Strong

DIRECTOR: Aaron Sorkin

WRITER: Aaron Sorkin

SYNOPSIS: Following violent clashes with the police, a group of anti-Vietnam War protestors and the leader of the Black Panther Party are put on trial