Thirteen years. This is how long it took for The Chicago Seven to come to fruition. Available from October 16 on Netflix, which acquired the distribution rights, Aaron Sorkin’s feature film is a project initiated by Dreamworks in July 2007, with a director in pole position to direct it: Steven Spielberg. While filming Indiana Jones 4, the filmmaker adds this tale adapted from a true story that occurred in 1968 to a long list which notably includes his biopic on Lincoln (whose role was, at the time, promised to Liam Neeson ), an adaptation of the adventures of Tintin or even Interstellar, which Christopher Nolan will recover a few years later.
With such a busy filmmaker, The Chicago Seven had everything to become another Arlesian in Hollywood. But no. Because in December 2007, the director hired Sacha Baron Cohen. As Borat triumphs in world theaters, the comedian lands the role of hippie Abbie Hoffman, one of the defendants in the lawsuit against the leaders of various protest groups, following a demonstration on the sidelines of the Democratic convention of 1968 which turned into a clash with the police. There is also talk of Will Smith to play the member of the Black Panthers Bobby Seale, of Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman or even Kevin Spacey, but the film hits a wall: the writers’ strike that hit Hollywood at that time, and impacts both cinema and series. But this project remains alive. Momentarily.
After considering filming it on a shoestring budget and lesser-known actors, Steven Spielberg finally hands over. First to Ben Stiller, who seems ready to take over the project in 2008. Then to Paul Greengrass, five years later. Failing to reach an agreement on the means which will be allocated to him, the latter also throws in the towel. And it was not until 2018 that The Chicago Seven resurfaced thanks to its screenwriter: Aaron Sorkin. When the feature film was initiated and given the script a decade earlier, the latter was “fair” an awesome screenwriter as well as the creator of the White House. In 2017, he proved thanks to The Big Game that he could direct his own scripts, and that’s arguably what changed the game. In addition to the resonances with current events which made it possible to anchor the story in the present.
On October 26, 2018, he officially becomes the director of the Chicago Seven with, already, a first actor: Sacha Baron Cohen, still on the bridge for the role of Abbie Hoffman. Eddie Redmayne and Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country) join them, but the project stalls again a few weeks later. Visibly cooled by the theatrical failures of Detroit and First Man, which take place at the same time, Amblin Entertainment refuses to invest the planned budget, fearing not to meet its expenses with a subject that is not intended for the big public, and the kick-off is still postponed. But not as long as expected, because the cast records the arrivals of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Alex Sharp in February 2019. Then of Frank Langella and Mark Rylance in August. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II then replaces Jonathan Majors and Jeremy Strong Seth Rogen, and filming finally begins in October.
One year before the release of the feature film, which Aaron Sorkin wanted close to the US presidential elections in November 2020, where some of the themes of the film will become an issue. And there is no doubt that the Chicago Seven should be mentioned again during the 2021 Oscars race, the ceremony of which is scheduled for April 25. Passed by a few rooms across the Atlantic, Aaron Sorkin’s baby is eligible, and his many qualities make him one of the favorites. Which would be a great reward for a long-term project like this.