Netflix's 'The Trial of the Chicago 7' is an Oscar-worthy drama with Sacha Baron Cohen's best performance ever

NetflixSacha Baron Cohen stars in an ensemble cast.
  • Netflix’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is out now.
  • The movie follows a group of activists on trial for several charges stemming from demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois.
  • Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, the courtroom drama will leave you feeling angry at the injustice of the world.
  • The film’s cast includes Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, Frank Langella, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.
  • It also stars Sacha Baron Cohen, who deserves an Oscar nomination.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Aaron Sorkin is one of the best film and TV writers working in Hollywood. His script for “The Social Network” won him an Oscar and his revered series “The West Wing” won him five Emmys. He’s since moved into directing, making his debut in 2017 with “Molly’s Game” starring Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba.

His latest directorial effort, however, is the superior movie.

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (in select theatres, and on Netflix now) follows a group of activists on trial for various charges including inciting riots following demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois.

Sorkin directs an ensemble cast including Eddie Redmayne, Mark Rylance, Jeremy Strong, Frank Langella, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and, best of all, Sacha Baron Cohen. The movie is filled with everything that Sorkin’s fans love — wit, one-liners, dramatic speeches, and crackling dialogue in every searing scene.

Its subject matter and depiction of real-life events parallel what has been going on in the US this year to a startling degree. This film is sure to do well during awards season.

Eddie Redmayne Mark Rylance Chicago 7NetflixEddie Redmayne and Mark Rylance are two of a trio of British actors sporting flawless American accents.

Why you should care: It’s a timely movie that will certainly get Oscar buzz

The movie follows the trial of seven activists — Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner — who were charged with inciting to riot, conspiracy, and more, all tied to their demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

And though the movie follows the trial, it somehow manages to be much bigger than that. Sorkin shows the fight is against injustice as a whole, the intersection between personal and political, and the right and importance of protesting against a system that isn’t working for its people.

As you’re watching, it’s easy to draw parallels between the film and what’s happening today, which guarantees that Sorkin’s movie will be timeless.

A US Attorney General turns what he deems as a personal insult into a full-blown political campaign, and tries to quash and suppress protestors. The protestors themselves are painted as dangerous rebels inciting violence and causing chaos. It’s a narrative we are all too familiar with.

It’s also why this movie is set to have a very good awards season. It’s an important period piece with a clean visual style by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, costumes by Susan Lyall, and Shane Valentino’s production design giving it the authentic feel it needs.

In a year where the Oscars are anyone’s for the taking, Sorkin’s movie could nab multiple awards.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 Frank LangellaNetflixFrank Langella plays Judge Julius Hoffman.

What’s hot: The cast is amazing and Sacha Baron Cohen delivers his best performance to date

Injustice is personified in the movie in the form of Judge Julius Hoffman, played by Frank Langella. The unhinged Hoffman tries everything he can to suppress the Chicago Seven. Langella will surely be one of the year’s most hated movie characters as he ousts jury members, charges the activists with contempt of court, and literally gags the leader of the Black Panthers, Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Langella’s performance may be nominated for the best supporting actor category at the Oscars, but the actor who deserves a nomination the most is Sacha Baron Cohen.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 Sacha Baron Cohen oscarNetflixSacha Baron Cohen deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance as Abbie Hoffman.

Baron Cohen, with a flawless American accent, forms a terrific double act with “Succession’s” Jeremy Strong as Abbie Hoffman (no relation to the judge) and Jerry Rubin — two activists who provide much of the film’s comedy. It’s the best performance of Baron Cohen’s career, combining his brilliant comedic timing with a dramatic intelligence that proves he is way more than just the caricatures of “Borat” and “Bruno.”

Meanwhile, Abdul-Mateen II is charismatic as ever, but also provides one of the film’s most harrowing moments in a scene that is hard to watch but wonderfully acted. Redmayne’s more pragmatic activist Tom Hayden provides conflict between our heroes as their methods and ideals clash, while Mark Rylance is reliably magnetic as the group’s lawyer, Bill Kunstler.

All three British actors — Baron Cohen, Redmayne, and Rylance — provide a masterclass in American accents.

Yayha Abdul Mateen II Mark Rylance Chicago 7NetflixYahya Abdul-Mateen II and Mark Rylance could also earn Oscar nominations for their performances.

One nomination that is practically guaranteed is for Sorkin’s original script. He quickly sets up the need-to-know background info and stakes before diving into the trial as quickly as he can. It’s here that the audience can marinate in the juicy drama and where the film is at its best.

Sorkin has always been a very intelligent writer, and he’s at his most informed here. In a world of fake news, this feels incredibly like the truth. Add in Sorkin’s dialogue and wit, and you’ve got one hell of a well-written movie.

What’s not: It can feel a little like a stage play at times, although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing

Sorkin started out as a playwright with “A Few Good Men” (which he later adapted into a movie starring Tom Cruise and an Oscar-nominated Jack Nicholson), so this feels like a return to his roots.

Just like “A Few Good Men,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a courtroom drama. It’s all about dialogue and character, rather than anything distinctly visual, and it could easily be imagined as a play.

Sacha Baron Cohen Jeremy Strong Chicago 7NetflixThe majority of the movie takes place inside the court room.

At times, it can feel as though you’re watching a play rather than a movie. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The claustrophobia of the courtroom draws the audience into the drama, making them feel more like a real courtroom spectator than a passive viewer.

There are also flashbacks to the events leading up to and including the 1968 riots that help bring action to the screen. These scenes take us outside and are a welcome break from the interior of the court.

The bottom line: A well written, well-acted drama that is as entertaining as it is vital

Some may find Sorkin’s style of writing a bit too, well, Sorkin-esque. A common criticism against Sorkin is that all of his characters talk in the same way — fast and witty — and that’s certainly the case here.

But it’s a movie, so it’s allowed to be stylised and highly entertaining. That’s what makes this drama so good: It’s a great movie, but more than that, it’s a great movie about real-life events that feel timeless, especially today.

Grade: A

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