I have been an ardent fan of the work of Aaron Sorkin’s writing since his first film, “A Few Good Men” was released in nineteen ninety-two. I won’t rave on about it here and now, but if you have not seen it, I urge you to. Sorkin’s script is arguably good enough to have provided Jack Nicholson with his finest work ever. And boy, is that saying something. Those of you slightly younger than me may have come across his writing in “The Social Network”, the story of Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg. If so, you will be familiar with razor-sharp lines firing out from the screen at the speed of lightning.
You have to be in the right frame of mind to watch an Aaron Sorkin film, and as this is also his directorial debut, I had been putting off watching it for a number of reasons. Chiefly that I might be disappointed. It just so happened that in the midst of a particularly bad bout of insomnia the other night, the time was right. I knew nothing regarding the real-life trial of the Chicago Seven. In nineteen sixty-eight, The Democratic Party Convention in Chicago was met with protestors from all across the USA, with such luminaries as the beat poet Allen Ginsberg leading the way. What was planned as a peaceful protest ended in a full-blown riot, with seven people from different organisations, being arrested and charged with conspiracy to start the said riot.
I have always loved a good courtroom drama. Looking back, all those John Grisham books I devoured years ago may have contributed. One of the aspects that helps make a courtroom drama great, and not just good, is the cast. And just to name a few, here we have the likes of Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Sacha Baron-Coen, and in my mind one of England’s greatest ever actors, Mark Rylance as the pro bono lawyer, portraying the original protagonists. As a side note, there is an actor I adore called John Carroll Lynch, whose face pops up on screen consistently, yet has managed to stay under the radar. He gives a stellar performance as a middle American scout leader David Dellinger, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Look out for him.
All the elements are there that make the genre what it is. The tough judge who is most definitely on the side of the law from the get-go; the frustrating bureaucracy that impacts upon many a fair trial. Lawyers hitting brick walls at every turn as they try to figure out a way to keep these seven people out of prison. Yup, lots of courtroom drama boxes ticked. But one aspect that stands out for me is the fact the seven people on trial could not be more disparate. From a scout leader and some highly educated disenchanted students, all the way through to counter-culture hippies intent on revolution and changing the world, and mocking the legal system and its customs throughout the trial putting everyone at risk with their antics. Normally in these situations, the people on trial are known to each other and are working as one. Here we have more interesting discussions, arguments and disagreements between the suspects behind closed doors than when we see people take the stand.
I am not going to give anything away about the outcome for those of you like me unfamiliar with the trial, as I would hate to spoil anything for you. My nephew Tarquin constantly tells me the endings of films, and it infuriates me. Every time. I suspect he knows, and it is why he continues to do so to this day the cheeky rascal. What I will say is that I was saddened to see that not much appears to have changed since then and that corruption and subterfuge from a democratically elected government is nothing new. Sound familiar?
As I said at the beginning, these sorts of films may not be for everyone. In fact, a dear friend of mine turned it off after around ten minutes. Chacun à son as my French chums say. But I was compelled from the start. If it sounds like your kind of film, give it a whirl. First-class writing, acting and direction made this an instant classic for me. I for one cannot wait to see what Mr Sorkin comes up with next. Clever, clever chap.