Oscar nominee profile: Original Screenplay ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ and its deadly serious issues with courtroom shenanigans

Aaron Sorkin had a massive job ahead of him when researching the screenplay for his second directorial effort, “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Back in 2007 when the project was to be directed by Steven Spielberg, Sorkin begin plowing through tens of thousands of pages of the official trial transcript to first get the facts down, then applied his character-writing skill to shape his script into a crowd-pleasing movie, the result of which has garnered Sorkin an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Sorkin’s screenplay for “Chicago 7” will battle with it out with scripts for Emerald Fennell‘s genre-bending “Promising Young Woman,” Lee Isaac Chung‘s family remembrance “Minari,” Will Berson and Shaka King‘s historical biopic “Judas and the Black Messiah” and the drama “Sound of Metal” written by Darius Marder and his brother Abraham Marder.

The 1969 trial of seven defendants charged with conspiring to incite the riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago stands unrivaled as having the most carnival-like atmosphere of any trial in American jurisprudence with courtroom antics from defendants Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin coupled with the over-the-top contempt of Judge Julius Hoffman. But for all of the courtroom shenanigans, deadly serious issues were contested here as well, from the morality of the ongoing Vietnam War and governmental overreach to the issues of police brutality and institutional racism. How can you possibly make a popcorn movie out of all that?

Remarkably, Sorkin has done it in his acclaimed script, primarily by telling this enormous story through various specific angles. The courtroom drama is naturally front and center, but Sorkin fills in the trial’s descriptions of the alleged crime by recreating the horrors of the actual riots and illustrating what the defendants did amid the violence in the streets. In addition, in order to dramatically individualize the defendants, Sorkin’s screenplay gives ample space to the conflicts behind the scenes of the defense table, most dramatically from the conflict between defendants Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) over whose approach during the trial would prove to be more productive for the cause.

In addition to his “Chicago 7” Original Screenplay nomination, Sorkin has previously earned three Adapted Screenplay nominations for 2011’s “Moneyball,” 2017’s “Molly’s Game” and 2010’s “The Social Network,” for which he won the Oscar. His screenplay for “Chicago 7” won this year’s Golden Globe for Best Adapted Screenplay and been nominated for the BAFTA, Critics Choice and the Writers Guild Awards, as well as earning nominations from major critics groups in Chicago, Hollywood, Houston, San Diego, San Francisco, St. Louis and Washington D.C.

With its Golden Globe win under its belt, Sorkin’s screenplay finds itself in a great position for this year’s Oscar race, with the screenwriter’s esteemed body of work providing a possible added boost that could propel him to his second Academy Award.

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