Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures and Netflix

The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Film Review

Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Noah Robbins, Mark Rylance, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Synopsis: In the run up to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the organisers of several protests at the time, who later became known as the Chicago 7, are put on trial by the Government…

Review: It’s hard to get away from the fact that in this most chaotic of years, that the world of politics, especially in the USA, is a very fraught and bitterly divided arena. As politics becoming increasingly partisan in nature, society has been reeling from the riots and civil unrest that has stemmed from senseless brutality from law enforcement, and a fundamentally flawed judicial system that significantly disadvantages ethnic minorities and people of colour. The parallels between the current situation and the unrest of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s are extremely hard to avoid, lending increased relevance to the second directorial effort from seasoned screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. To say this is “timely” is practically doing the film a disservice, for the simple reasons that right from the start, there’s a real sense of urgency about the film, with a message that needs to be heard around the world, because as they say in the film: “The whole world is watching.”

With the 1968 Democratic National Convention taking place in Chicago, several different groups of people, with numerous leaders, converge on Chicago to protest the Vietnam War. With the Civil Rights Movement of the time in full swing, a tense atmosphere exists between the protestors and the police/National Guard who quickly arrive on the scene. It doesn’t take long for the situation to escalate into brutality and violence, leading to the arrests of the leaders, who would go on to become known as the Chicago 7. The Government, under President Richard Nixon, is eager to make an example of these protestors. Hence, they appoint a top prosecutor Richard Schultz (Gordon-Levitt) to seek prosecutions and lock these protestors up for allegedly inciting violence. The stage is now set for one of the most politicised trials in the history of the United States.

As he demonstrated with his slick and stylish debut feature Molly’s Game, Sorkin’s proved himself to be a confident director to combine perfectly with his skill as a master screenwriter. It’s to his great credit that he made stories about about numbers and baseball, and the social media company that would change the world, extremely compelling watches. It raises the possibility that Sorkin could craft something extremely riveting based on the most ordinary of tasks. Though, the events being depicted here are given extra significance by the politically charged nature of this story. There’s no holding back when it comes to its subject matter, and how these events that are being depicted over fifty years ago, are starkly relevant in today’s society. A society where those in positions of power seek to use the political and justice systems as weapons to punish those who dare to have a dissenting opinion. The dialogue, as you would expect from Sorkin, is sharp and engaging throughout, and he effortlessly blends the urgent and important drama, with some brilliant humour.

With a massively stacked cast, there’s always a risk that not everyone will get their moment in the spotlight, and while Sorkin does his level best to give each of the Chicago 7 a moment, some use their opportunity better than others. One of the brightest spots by far is Sacha Baron Cohen’s Abbie Hoffman. On first glance he might seem like nothing more than an eccentric hippie, but don’t let that fool you, for he is a man with razor sharp wit, with his finger on the pulse. While his accent wobbles in a few places, Eddie Redmayne’s Tom Hayden is another who uses his screen time effectively. He might seem like a more quiet and reserved individual, but he has his moments where he exhibits fierce passion for the cause that all of the defendants stand for. While there are clashes within the ranks of the Chicago 7, they remain committed to their goal of exposing this trial for what it is, a sham and politicised trial.

On the other side of the courtroom, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Richard Schultz is a little concerned about the Government’s position, but is determined to do his job to the best of his abilities. By contrast, Frank Langella’s Judge Hoffman is one character who will infuriate every time he’s on screen. The sheer contempt he exhibits for the defendants, their legal representatives, and the fact he fails to be impartial throughout illustrates how he’s unequivocally unfit to be a judge in this situation. Through his clear disdain for the defendants, it makes for some fiery (and sometimes entertaining) clashes between the Judge and the Chicago 7, as well as their legal counsel William Kunstler (a truly excellent Mark Rylance). Additionally, while they’re not in the film for sufficiently long enough, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Leader of the Black Panther Party Bobby Searle and Michael Keaton’s, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, both leave lasting impressions with their performances.

In this politically charged era that we’re currently living in, battlegrounds are being drawn between those on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Furthermore, as they were in 1968/69, those in power today are using the flawed justice system and the courts as a means of achieving their own ends. This powerful and urgent drama is an important reminder of the power of protest, and how people should use their voice to speak out and should not let government intimidation bully them into silence. Like they were fifty years ago, the whole world is watching, and it is essential to stand up for democracy, and ensure that people make themselves be counted.

Signature sharp Sorkin dialogue throughout, this urgent drama is a sharp and stinging look at social, legal and political issues that even after a generation, continue to be deep-rooted thorns in today’s society.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Molly’s Game (2017)

Image is property of STXfilms

Molly’s Game – Film Review

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Michael Cera, Kevin Costner

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Synopsis: After her professional sports career lies in tatters, a young woman named Molly Bloom sets up and runs high stakes poker games, but it isn’t long before she finds herself at risk of running into trouble with the law…

Review: When it comes to a screenplay that is written by the one and only Aaron Sorkin, you’re going to get extremely well written and extremely engaging dialogue. In addition, the characters on screen will be talking in a fast pace that keeps you completely focused on the words that they are saying, whilst moving the plot forward in a timely manner. With Sorkin he can take almost any aspect such as the inner workings of baseball, or the lives behind the founders of Apple and Facebook and turn them into extremely entertaining, very character driven pieces that yield exceptional performances. Except this time, having for so long been the master of the screenplay, he makes his first venture in the world of directing.

His debut feature tells the story of Molly Bloom, a budding young athlete in her early life with dreams of going professional. This was until a horrendous incident ruined those dreams for good. Seeking a new venture, she finds herself working as for want of a better word, a secretary for a man who runs poker games. After acquiring the experience and developing the skills, she becomes extremely good at this, to the point where she decides to set up her own business running extremely high stakes poker games for some A list celebrities. However it isn’t long before she finds herself dealing with some much more scary sort of clientele that soon lands her in some hot water.

Sorkin chooses to tell Molly’s story by focusing on her fraught meetings with her lawyer (Idris Elba) and then flashes back to her past and how she went from an athlete with shattered dreams to running high stakes poker games for some truly A list clients. Among these clients include some very high calibre Hollywood actors, though the real identities of these people have been deliberately obscured. The script is filled with Sorkin’s familiar sort of very fast paced dialogue, with extremely watchable characters who definitely have a story to tell, and in the case of Molly Bloom, hers is certainly one that will have your interest in from the word go.

As she so often is Chastain is fantastic in this role that has already bagged her a few award nominations. She displays dogged determination to succeed in spite of some people giving her some rough treatment, whilst crucially giving the character strong emotional weight when she’s tussling and arguing with her lawyer, and even more so when the effects of her glamourous lifestyle really begin to take their toll on her. Elba, as said lawyer is also excellent as he tries his best to determine the best course of action for Molly to take in this precarious situation.

Sorkin is undeniably a master when it comes to screenwriting, as a director he shows himself to be equally adept combining his signature dialogue and making the film cohesive and structurally on point. The weaving together of two timelines can lead to a messy outcome, but thankfully the film doesn’t collapse and fall apart like a poker player might if they had a terrible hand.  Even if you have no clue whatsoever when it comes to poker, the story is told in such a way that keeps you engaged and interested in this woman and her truly fascinating story from the depth of despair to a remarkable rise to riches, and back again.

Anchored by an electric performance from Chastain, with superb work from Elba, Molly’s Game ensures that Sorkin’s directorial debut has plenty of aces up its sleeve.