I wouldn’t necessarily describe Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 as a comedy. The movie follows the true-life trial of seven protestors who got caught up in a wave of violence and police brutality outside of the Democratic National Convention in 1968. In telling their story, the movie makes shockingly relevant connections to our contemporary headlines… but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that yes, there are laughs in this movie. Well-earned, material-sensitive laughs. They were unexpected, and also appreciated as tension breakers.
When we had the opportunity to interview The Trial of the Chicago 7 co-lead Eddie Redmayne about the movie, I had to ask him about how they approached the humor in the script, because the subject matter could make this story very preachy and overly dramatic. But as he points out, if you are familiar with Aaron Sorkin’s approach as a screenwriter – in movies like The Social Network, Steve Jobs, Moneyball or Charlie Wilson’s War – then you know that humor often is an entry point for the storyteller. Redmayne said:
It was on the page, honestly. Aaron is the master of that. He takes on such rigorous subject matter, and he invests in his audience’s speed of thought, but he also laces it with humor in a way that’s wonderful. In fact, we talked about it in relation to Tom, because Tom – in Aaron’s take on the trial was very much the policy and ‘within-the-system’ man. But I said to Aaron, ‘In order for an audience to stay with him, he’s got to have charisma!’ Which Tom did, by the way, in real life. He was swimming in charisma. But he’s got to have some of that, himself. So actually, Aaron went in and laced a bit of humor into Tom’s early scenes. He’s not quite Abbie [Hoffman], and certainly I’m not Sacha [Baron Cohen]! But it was important. What I’m saying is that it was very important that the humor is a way into these characters.
Redmayne’s right. Aaron Sorkin is a master at seeing what’s humorous in what’s really an absurd situation, and there are moments during the trial that was staged for The Chicago 7 that will have you shaking your head and wondering how we allowed ourselves to get to that point. Then, you might look around and keep asking yourself that question.
But that humor, while subtle, helps Aaron Sorkin’s film, The Trial of the Chicago 7, fly by on its own energies and intelligent creativity. It’s a vital history lesson embedded in a vibrant courtroom thriller, where Eddie Redmayne plays social and political activist Tom Hayden opposite Sacha Baron Cohen’s Abbie Cohen and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Bobby Seale. Here’s Redmayne, talking about Sorkin’s funny bone:
The good news is that you no longer have to wait to watch what I consider to be one of the best movies released this year. Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 is now streaming on Netflix, so make it part of your weekend plans. I expect we will be discussing this one during the duration of the crazy Oscar season we are about to wade into.