The Death Of Heath Ledger And More Halted Netflix's Trial Of The Chicago 7, But Sacha Baron Stuck With It

Sacha Baron Cohen in The Trial of the Chicago 7

October was a big month for Sacha Baron Cohen on two fronts. Over on Amazon Prime Video, he could be seen engaging in mustachioed shenanigans in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, with the eponymous character accompanied by his daughter Tutar, played by Maria Bakalova. And over on Netflix, Cohen starred as Abbie Hoffman in Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7. That project was literally over a decade in the making, as there was a time where actors like Heath Ledger and Phillip Seymour Hoffman would have appeared alongside Cohen.

Needless to say that iteration of The Trial of the Chicago 7 was not able to move forward, but Sacha Baron Cohen stuck with the project for years until Aaron Sorkin, who’d already written the script, finally breathed life into it as the director. As Cohen explained to EW:

I made the call originally in 2007 to Steven Spielberg. I heard he was making a movie about the Chicago 7, and I had been rather obsessed with Abbie since my early 20s. I went through a long process with Steven before he gave me the part. Unfortunately, that project was tragically destroyed by the deaths of two of the cast members, Heath Ledger and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The final death knell was the writers’ strike. I stayed with the project for 13 years. These were issues I cared about that I didn’t want to let go of. When Aaron took the project, I pitched myself again.

So it didn’t take long for the Steve Spielberg-helmed version of The Trial of the Chicago 7 to suffer a devastating blow, as Heath Ledger passed away in early 2008, leaving The Dark Knight and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus as his final movies. The Writer’s Guild of America strike, which lasted from November 2007 to January 2008, resulted in the project being suspended, and from then until Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death in early 2014, there were a variety of other complications, behind-the-scenes changes, etc. But through it all, Sacha Baron Cohen was determined to see that The Trial of the Chicago 7 eventually get made, as he felt this was a real-life story that deserved to be told in a film setting.

By October 2018, it was announced that Aaron Sorkin would sit in the director’s chair for The Trial of the Chicago 7, having made his directorial debut on 2017’s Molly’s Game. The Trial of the Chicago 7 was originally supposed to be a traditional theatrical release, with Paramount Pictures handling distribution. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic closing down movie theaters, Paramount sold The Trial of the Chicago 7 to Netflix, and following a limited theatrical release, it was dropped on the streaming service on October 16.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 told the story of the Chicago Seven, a group of anti-Vietnam War protestors who came to Chicago in 1968 to protest at outside the Democratic National Convention, but were arrested and charged with crossing state lines to incite riots, with their trial being held the following year. Along with Sacha Baron Cohen, the ensemble cast includes Eddie Redmayne, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Mark Rylance, Jospeh Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella and Michael Keaton, among others. The Trial of the Chicago 7 has been earned primarily positive critical reception, ranking at 90% among professional critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

Be sure to read CinemaBlend’s review of The Trial of the Chicago 7, and if you’re curious about what Netflix is delivering this month, look through our detailed lineup. You can also learn what movies are supposed to hit theaters next year with our 2021 release schedule.

Adam Holmes
Senior Content Producer

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.