THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
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Everyone’s in Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 (now on Netflix). Well, all your favourite dudes, anyway. Sacha Baron Cohen and Succession’s Jeremy Strong are on trial, in the wake of the protests at the 1968 US Democratic Convention in Chicago, as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Eddie Redmayne and John Carroll Lynch are on trial too, as the more level-headed Tom Hayden and David Dellinger. Mark Rylance and Ben Shenkman are there trying to defend them, while Joseph Gordan-Levitt is across the aisle for the prosecution. Meanwhile, glowering from his high bench, there’s Frank Langella as the odious Judge Julius Hoffman. When he walked into the courtroom, my partner blurted out, “Perfect.”
Indeed. Langella is, on the surface - on paper - perfectly cast, and emblematic of the kind of film this is: everyone’s playing to their strengths, to the gallery, and to the moment. Watching the dirty deeds hurled at the ‘7’ by the government makes you angry, both for then and for now: nothing’s changed. My anger came with a side of very weird comfort: Oh well, it’s not as though the current US administration is the first to be horribly corrupt, vengeful, and willing to unfairly prosecute their own citizens. There’s precedent!
It’s a wiggy movie - that is, there are a lot of wigs, a lot of beards, a lot of late-60s gear - and not a very subtle one. But it is a spectacular history lesson that also reverberates perfectly for this moment, while also becoming increasingly entertaining as it goes on. Each of the cast are given multiple moments to shine, and if Baron Cohen’s accent is (very) dodgy, his essence is not: he is a modern-day Hoffman, constantly speaking truth to corrupt power through subversive comedy. The least obvious casting may be Strong as Rubin, given his short-back-and-sides work on Succession, but he is actually the film’s greatest delight. And Redmayne is the best I’ve seen him.
Surprisingly, given the clear-cut case for his casting, the one who doesn’t work is Langella. He goes full-on Disney villain, Sorkin lets him, and together they come close to ruining the end of the film, Langella flailing about cartoonishly, a bully come-upped. It’s a pretty dreadful, intensely over-done, schmaltzy ending, and you come out whistling a familiar tune: Sorkin remains one of the great American screenwriters, but a fledgling director.
KAJILLIONAIRE (Out now in cinemas)
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Miranda July’s third feature (after Me and You and Everyone We Know and The Future) is on-brand, continuing to combine her low-key, deadpan, minimalist humanism with a lo-fi, washed-out, street-level aesthetic. Her films rely on character and circumstance, because they certainly don’t look or sound great.
Her set-up here is engaging off the bat: Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) has two truly terrible parents, as evidenced by her ridiculous name (it’s explained in the film in a typically kind-of-funny gag). They’re bottom-of-the-barrel Los Angeles con artists, the kind of people who are never not scamming, albeit for chump change. As played by Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger, they’re clearly both depressed and a little off, as is Old Dolio, who’s been brought up to be part of their gang rather than family. Their world, as pathetic as it is, is original and funny, and the first act is compellingly weird.
The second act sees another young woman - Melanie, played exuberantly by Gina Rodriguez - become accidentally involved in this demented tiny universe, and, initially, go along for the ride, raising Old Dolio’s anxiety from mildly constant to urgently severe. Suddenly there seems to be a second daughter figure vying for the attention of parents who’ve never accepted the first.
As with July’s other films, Kajillionaire is after more than laughs, and reaches quite moving levels of resonance as it engages with the idea of a young adult dealing with a lifetime of parental neglect (and worse). July reaches often for ecstatic moments, where she cranks up a song and captures LA’s sun glaringly in-camera, but it’s Rachel Wood’s performance that will either sell you or send you. It’s a big one, with all the trimmings - a voice, a look, a physicality - to leave us in no uncertain mind of Old Dolio’s deep damage. It just worked for me, even as I was constantly aware of it, and thus did the movie, constantly skirting the threshold of my patience, but always staying just on the right side.
THE CLIMB (Opens Thursday 29/10 in cinemas)
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The Climb, written by and starring Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin and directed by Covino, is very, very, very, very clever. Told over seven chapters, each containing only one or two extremely long and well-choreographed takes, it’s ambitious, witty and personal.
Mike (Covino) and Kyle (Marvin) are lifelong friends. Now (seemingly) in their late 20s / early 30s, they’re about to swap secrets, partners, and, in just one of the film’s many bold moves, physiques. We first meet them biking up a very long hill outside Nice, in France, where Kyle, it seems, is due to marry. Those plans are disrupted, and we follow the two men over the next decade or so, through many life changes and fascinating reversals.
The unbroken takes delightfully draw attention to themselves and become a big part of the fun: the camera weaves in and out of groups of people, houses, vehicles and even seasons. Elsewhere, other stylistic extravagances gleefully wave their hands for our attention: a sudden (albeit low-key) musical number, a lo-fi (albeit terrifying) action sequence. In every chapter, there is something stylistically exciting going on; likewise, the storytelling is giddily exuberant, revelling in dramatic ellipses, strange twists and well-shaped supporting characters.
This is a film that both harks back to an earlier age of American indies about male friendship (I was reminded of In The Company of Men, Neil LaBute’s 1997 debut) while also feeling fresh and unique. It seems to have been shot mainly in Colorado, itself a rare backdrop, and, here, a beautiful one. There is a strong French connection beyond the opening chapter in Nice; French music and references abound, and combined with the often snowy, woodsy locations, the film achieves an exoticism rarely found in American cinema. It is compelling, gently funny and constantly surprising. Highly recommended.