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'The Trial of the Chicago 7’ Preview: Sorkin’s Next Big Hit

Eddie Redmayne stars as Tom Hayden in "The Trial of the Chicago 7" (2020), directed by Aaron Sorkin.
Eddie Redmayne stars as Tom Hayden in "The Trial of the Chicago 7" (2020), directed by Aaron Sorkin. By Courtesy of Niko Tavernise/Netflix
By Penelope M. Alegria, Contributing Writer

Protest signs. Policemen in riot gear. A city courtroom packed to the brim. These are snapshots of the recently released "The Trial of the Chicago 7" trailer. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, "The Trial of the Chicago 7" portrays the violence of the protest that occurred in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the court proceedings of those accused of inciting it.

Originally an actor and playwright, Sorkin broke into cinema after selling the film rights to his courtroom drama "A Few Good Men." Since then, Sorkin has become critically acclaimed, including an Academy Award win for Best Adapted Screenplay for "The Social Network." He made his directorial debut more recently in 2017 with “Molly’s Game,” which was also nominated for an Academy Award.

From the looks of it, "The Trial of the Chicago 7" will join Sorkin’s extensive accolade-rich filmography with an all-star cast that includes Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Alex Sharp, Mark Rylance, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, and John Caroll Lynch. The crew doesn’t disappoint either: “The Trial of the Chicago 7” has executive producer Walter Parkes, who has more than 50 film productions under his belt, and producer Marc E. Platt produced the Academy Award-winning films “La La Land” and “Bridge of Spies.”

Netflix recently closed a $56 million deal for “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” replacing Paramount Pictures after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down movie theatres. The film was originally set to be released domestically at the end of September, but will now be available for streaming on October 16. While the strong political currents seen in the trailer feel timely in the face of the Black Lives Matter movement, Sorkin had originally written "The Trial of the Chicago 7" screenplay in 2007, an idea that sprouted during a visit to Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg’s house.

“[Spielberg] told me he wanted to make a movie about the riots at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention and the trial that followed,” Sorkin said in an interview with Vanity Fair. “I left not knowing what the hell he was talking about.”

Though the screenplay for "The Trial of the Chicago 7" was ready 13 years ago, the project was delayed due to various reasons, including the Writers Guild of America strike that lasted 100 days starting in November of 2007. Sorkin wasn't announced as director until after "The Trial of the Chicago 7” was resurrected in 2018, and production of the film itself didn’t start until 2019, with filming in Chicago and New Jersey.

Sorkin shot much of the principal production on location, including in Hennesy and Hylan Hall on Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Florham Campus in Morris County, New Jersey. The director also used Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois as the battleground for the protests seen in the trailer.

"The Trial of the Chicago 7" is notably being released prior to the presidential election, and Sorkin draws on strong and unmissable similarities between political tension in 1968 and in 2020. Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael captures the tense backdrop to the titular court case by using two handheld cameras to record the crowds of protestors, adding a tangible, documentary-esque dimension of violence between protestors and the police. All throughout the trailer for “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” chants of “the world is watching” can be heard. This rings true now more than ever. The world was watching then. And the world, more than ever, is watching now.

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