There has been a long stretch without a new release since “Tenet” hit theaters about four weeks ago. Netflix has been carrying the load in the meantime with films like, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” “The Devil All the Time” and “Enola Holmes,” but they changed up their strategy a bit this weekend. 

Netflix’s new film, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” released this weekend in select theaters in order to qualify it for The Academy Awards consideration next year. Of course, with an itch to get back to the movies, I saw it in a completely empty theater last Thursday night. 

Not only was I excited to see a new film in theaters, but I am a huge fan of the writer and director Aaron Sorkin’s past work. This is only Sorkin’s second directorial feature after 2017’s, “Molly’s Game,” so I was greatly anticipating what he would choose to do next. With the courtroom setting for “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” it places Sorkin right in his wheelhouse for what is one of the best films I’ve seen all year.

Like all of Sorkin’s films, the real standout is the screenplay. The dialogue flows together effortlessly, like an elaborate staged dance. It feels more like a play than anything else, with the way that characters dive into long soliloquies and cut each other off as scenes escalate in intensity. It’s wonderfully orchestrated, and Sorkin does a great job with directing his actors to be pitch-perfect when in a heated conversation. 

Many actors have claimed that some of the toughest scripts they’ve ever had to perform were those of Aaron Sorkin. 

He is a true wordsmith that demands laser focus and timing from an actor. The cast of “The Trial of the Chicago 7” navigates Sorkin’s script with ease. Not one character is a standout because every character contributes to the film’s best moments.

 Eddie Redmayne, who I normally don’t like, is really strong in this film, giving a very reserved, yet emotionally charged performance. Tom Hayden, portrayed by Redmayne, has a very calm and determined demeanor throughout the film, that culminates in one huge explosion in the final act. Sorkin does an excellent job with Hayden’s arc, showing him as the true main character of the movie.

Another actor who I think will gain some buzz around awards season is Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin. Strong delivers a brilliant, layered and comedic performance as a non-serious, anti-war activist. His character begins as a joke with a lot of one-liners and stoner-esque comedy. But, as the film progresses, Sorkin reveals more about what makes Rubin tick and who he actually is as a person under the facade he exhibits.

My only real issue with the film is that there are extended courtroom sequences that are excellently performed, but push themselves past the realm of believability. There will be impressive ten minute long scenes of constant dialogue with actors bouncing off of each other in perfect succession, but then it will be ruined by the constant interruption.

I can only imagine this is how Sorkin wants the audience to feel when the group is given an unfair situation due to a biased judge, but a lot of the interjections seem a little far fetched and throw off the rhythm that is being built up. 

Also, this is Sorkin’s second film in the director’s chair, so there are definitely some aspects that he has yet to discover about himself behind the camera. 

There isn’t a distinct visual style or flare that makes the movie itself interesting to watch. When the movie is working, it’s working because of the excellent performances and quickly paced dialogue. There isn’t anything particularly interesting about what Sorkin chooses to do with the camera in order to enhance the viewing experience. There aren’t any stunning shots or strong composition, but a very standard and flat look that takes away from the immersion a little.

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a pressingly important film for the current social and political climate of America. It revolves around historical figures who fought for what they believed was the right thing to do, but who all had different tactics. 

Not only is it a strongly written courtroom drama, but a commentary about putting differences aside to reach common ground when staring adversity in the face. It’s also a commentary on the power of protests, and how one act can shape the entire country’s view on a political or social issue. It’s a film for the times, and while I don’t think it has a chance down the line as a best picture win, I wouldn’t be surprised if the current state of the country sways Academy voters’ opinions.

Grade: A-

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