With few releases on offer on the big screen currently, ESP’s movie reviewer Gavin Miller turns his attention to those available on the small screen at home…
A ‘based on true events’ movie from someone with the pedigree of Oscar-winning writer Aaron Sorkin would always be built with the cinema in mind – but Netflix got a gem here by snaffling up the rights when Covid-19 put the kibosh on that.
After a very limited recent cinematic release, this story directed by The Social Network, Moneyball and The West Wing scribe hit the streaming giant in the past week – and it’s arguably the best courtroom drama in quite some time.
And with a star-studded cast that includes Britain’s own Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Oscar-nominee Sacha Baron Cohen (Les Miserables), along with the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Aquaman) and Michael Keaton (Birdman), it’s not hard to see why it comes together so well.
This historical crime-drama is based on seven people – including Youth International Party members Abbie Hoffman (Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), Students for a Democratic Society leader Tom Hayden (Redmayne) and National Mobilisation Committee to End the War in Vietnam head David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch) – standing trial for various incitement charges surrounding an uprising at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago at the height of the Vietnam War.
The incoming government are baying for blood as protesters and police clashed in ugly scenes, and enlist Gordon-Levitt’s stellar up-and-coming Federal Prosecutor Richard Schultz to try and secure sentences for the group – with Rylance’s William Kunstler providing their defending counsel.
Black Panther National Chairman Bobby Seale (Abdul-Mateen II) – who legally represents himself – is also thrown in as the eighth defendant to spice up proceedings, further reinforcing the feelings of a ‘witch hunt’ against prominent anti-government figures.
Via flashbacks from the events several months previous it is all woven together to the main continual backdrop of the courtroom – with the defendants also receiving extreme prejudice from Frank Langella’s Judge Julius Hoffman throughout the trial.
He throws out ‘contempt of court’ orders at the ‘drop of a hat’ to do anything to hamper the defence in one of the most shocking sub-plots – even denying the jury from hearing former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark’s (Keaton) invaluable testimony that could aid the accused.
Through a two hour plus political ride – very much in the vein of Sorkin’s aforementioned The Social Network – some could definitely find it a heavy trawl to get through without at least having some interest in the material at hand, but there’s no doubting this could be in the mix come Awards season time – even though it doesn’t quite have that stand-out magical moment to push it into ‘classic’ territory.
Which means this Netflix movie is competently solid in almost every way from start to finish – and comes highly recommended to stand trial alongside the Chicago 7 in the comfort of your own living room.
ESP Rating: 4/5
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abdul-Mateen Ii, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Frank Langella, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Alex Sharp, Ben Shenkman, Danny Flaherty & Michael Keaton
Running Time: 2 Hrs 9 Mins
Director: Aaron Sorkin