This is a suspenseful and sometimes eloquent film with inspired casting that paints '60s-era anti-war activists as flawed heroes up against a corrupt bureaucracy. You'd expect nothing less from the creator of that beacon of principled progressive politics, The West Wing.
Writer-director Aaron Sorkin's focus on the trial rather than the bloody riots of 1968, which we don't glimpse until more than 45 minutes into The Trial of the Chicago 7, allows the actors to shine with Sorkin standards like fast-paced intellectual sparring and moving displays of courage and righteousness.
Baron Cohen, Redmayne, and Rylance were particularly inspired choices in an entirely male-centric cast (and story). They embody their characters' demeanors and accents as well as their passion and intelligence.
The world could use more Hoffmans and Haydens, as they're depicted by Sorkin: whip-smart, committed social critics with, in Hoffman's case, a razor-sharp wit and no fear of authority. In one of the film's best lines, Hoffman sneers at the prosecutor's questioning: "Give me a moment, would you, friend? I've never been on trial for my thoughts before."
Some historical knowledge is helpful but not essential, and also not a spoiler here. A 7-minute introduction confuses as much as it contextualizes, giving too much information too fast. The film's relevance to contemporary social upheaval could not be clearer, particularly in the subtexts of racial injustice and excessive use of police force. It's hard to imagine this wasn't fully intentional. At one point, for example, the camera closes in on a protestor's sign reading "Lock them up!" A later scene closes to voiceover chants that "the whole world is watching."
Read the full review at Common Sense Media.