“The Trial of the Chicago 7” star Eddie Redmayne said the film was an “urgent story to tell.”
Redmayne, star Sacha Baron Cohen, writer and director Aaron Sorkin, producer Marc Platt and editor Alan Baumgarten joined Senior Artisans Editor Jazz Tangay in the Variety Streaming Room to discuss the film’s timeliness and creation process. The Oscar contender, which nabbed a Palm Springs International Film Awards Vanguard, has swept major nominations in the awards circuit for both the cast and crew.
The thrilling court-room drama chronicles the highlights of the historic trial that sought to punish activists for inciting riots outside of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The powerhouse cast also includes Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, Mark Rylance and Jeremy Strong.
“We’ve been on a 14-year collision course with events in the world,” Sorkin said. “And we thought the film was plenty relevant last winter, when we were making it. We didn’t need it to get more relevant, but obviously it did in May with the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — protesters taking to the streets and cities all over America. And in a number of those cities, those protesters being met by tear gas and riot clubs.”
Within the context of the January 6 Capitol insurrection incited by former president Donald Trump, Cohen said the film cogently highlights the dangers of misinformation. “It’s about the potential lethal nature of lies. That lies can kill when leaders lie — people dying was the lies of the Vietnam War and the lies that the protesters, not the politicians, were the threat. And so, we saw that the attack on the Capitol was based on a big lie, which was that Trump won the election and that ends up leading to violence.”
Platt and Baumgarten reflected on Sorkin’s extraordinary writing ability and how the retelling of the true story was able to be impactful thanks to the director’s powerful words and the cast’s honest performance.
“I had the benefit of two wonderful gifts, the fantastic script and the performances by these actors,” Baumgarten said. “So, the script that I read from Aaron was wonderful. And I knew right away that I would have a head start right out of the gate. When I’m working on a project like this, with Aaron’s script, I feel like when the starting gun goes off, I’m already halfway down the track and rounding the turn.”
Originally, the project was to be helmed by Steven Spielberg, but Sorkin said it was entrusted to him following his 2017 “Molly’s Game,” starring Jessica Chastain, and Trump’s election. Sorkin said he was “nervous” about the scope of the project, especially its riot sequences that were to be filmed on a limited budget and time frame.
“We found a way using wide shots … where there would be kind of a screen of smoke from the tear gas that would let us do certain things — very, very tight shots,” Sorkin said. “Just a pair of eyes, right before a nightstick went into it. A canister of tear gas being loaded or dropping. Those very tight shots and archival footage that Alan spent hours and hours and hours going through this archival footage. And we just found right mix and it worked.”
The panelists said they were grateful to be part of the movie, given that its message is just as relevant today as it was fifty years ago.
“As much as we think we’re evolving as a society, as a politic, as a government, as a people, our narrative really hasn’t changed that much in matters of race and truth-telling, and revolution and all the things that we think evolve or are evolving that we want to be active participants in,” Platt said. “And I think we’re proud of having had the opportunity to make this story, to put that out there in the world and to let history be a teacher to all of us.”
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