Cert 15 Stars 5

One of the most shameful trials in US history is brought to vivid life by a top drawer cast, cracking production values and a dynamite script in this tremendously entertaining, timely and intense courtroom drama, set in 1969 against a background of civil unrest and Vietnam War protest.

The Chicago Seven were a combative group of combative egos charged with conspiring to incite the riots which had erupted outside the Democratic Party convention the previous summer.

Among the accused are Brit actors playing to their strengths, with Borat star Sacha Baron Cohen providing a lot of sharp-edged humour, while Eddie Redmayne gives an anguished performance which suggests being self-serving, spineless and condescending comes easily to the posh actor.

President Nixon’s newly appointed administration is intent on making an example of the defendants and are seeking the maximum sentence of 10 years in jail apiece, and proceedings are marked by dirty tricks including jury tampering, police officers lying under oath, and a judge unfit for purpose.

The use of TV footage from the time to lend authenticity to flashbacks, plus with the racism, sexual assault, bloody violence and willingness of the executive to exploit the law to pursue a political agenda, it’s impossible not to see comparisons with events on either side of the pond today.

There’s no greater writer of dialogue working today in Hollywood than director Aaron Sorkin, whose career began with writing Jack Nicholson’s A Few Good Men, before going on to create TV drama, The West Wing and win an Oscar for The Social Network.

Another superb showcase for his talent, he expertly narrows down a lengthy complex trial into an easily understandable narrative, while the exchanges, especially between Frank Langella’s judge and Mark Rylance’s defence lawyer are jaw dropping.

Relevant, distressing and gripping throughout, it also sees Michael Keaton in a small but vital role, for which he should be Oscar nominated. If there’s any justice that is.