I think I’ve finally made up my mind on where I stand with Aaron Sorkin. He’s often known as someone you’re either all-in on or completely out on; either you love him or hate him (“We don’t need two metaphors; that’s bad writing. Not that it matters.”). I think, at this point, I have to say I fall in the middle, but maybe it’s not that simple. After watching The Trial of the Chicago 7, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I realized that I think I like Sorkin the most, when he’s dealing with lower stakes.
I’ve never been into The West Wing or The American President because the subject matter is already so grandiose and weighty, that when Aaron Sorkin comes along and pumps it up even further, it can be a little too much to handle. But when he’s dealing with the front office of a struggling baseball team (Moneyball), the rise of Apple computers (Steve Jobs), or the world of underground, celebrity poker (Molly’s Game), he’s able to raise these much lower stakes into feeling like the weight of the world rests upon them and turns what should be a snooze-fest into an absolute thrill ride. I mean, he took the dull, legal depositions surrounding the founding of Facebook and turned it into a Shakespearean duel of the minds. The man knows how to make you think the story he’s telling is the most important story in the world.
So, when he takes subject matter that truly does matter, like Chicago 7, I almost get a little bit of a headache when the subjects, who actually have weighty implications behind their actions, get the Sorkin treatment and are elevated to an even higher level of duty. It all just becomes so grand. It’s like in PacMan when you go so far in one direction, you end up all the way back on the other end of the screen; sometimes Sorkin can compound his more important material so much with his own pompous writing style, that it all becomes too much and leaves the audience feeling like it’s a bit cheesy. Having said that, this movie is good. It’s real good. It’s just pretty clear that Sorkin should stick to writing.
I know that’s a pretty hacky take: keep the writer in the writer’s room and out of the director’s chair. But it should be considered. Had Sorkin started directing earlier in his career, then fine, let him have at it, because he’d be better at it at this point but since he’s only begun directing with his last two movies, what we end up with is a guy who is much more talented on the page than he is in the chair. The film is a little static and visually dull. It’s a lot of pointing the camera at one person at a time and letting them speak and while that isn’t the biggest deal in the world, it’s just clear that he has no signature style. Folks like Bennet Miller, David Fincher and Danny Boyle have been able to take his scripts and spin them into some visually creative works of art, but Sorkin himself just isn’t there yet. I imagine he’ll get there one day but I’d rather he hand off his screenplays to folks with more experience than keep taking at-bats for himself. Now we’ll never know what Edgar Wright’s version of Molly’s Game looks like or Spielberg’s Chicago 7.
Chicago 7 is one of Sorkin’s hokiest movies yet. I imagine the original drafts of all his screenplays have the same amount of cheese, but with oversight from experienced directors, they’re able to work with him to cut out some of the more naively-optimistic moments he’s so fond of. It’s really a classic Judd Apatow-esque case of “the writer-director is too in love with their own work to change any of it,” and seeing as Netflix is famous for giving so few notes to big name talents, as they don’t want to ruffle any feathers because they’re just happy to have them aboard, there just doesn’t seem to be anyone in the room to tell him that what he’s shooting is a little cheesy.
But again, I like this movie! I can’t believe I like this movie! It has Eddie Redmayne and I really don’t get what he’s all about and yet, he works really well. I went from rolling my eyes the first time he showed up to saying “fuck yeah, Eddie Redmayne” by the time the credits rolled. I’m shocked by that. Truly shocked. I also find Sacha Baron Cohen pretty hit and miss in more dramatic work, but dammit, he fucking works in this movie. He works really well. And I’m always down for John Carroll Lynch to get work, even if he does somewhat get the short end of the stick here.
It’s also an extremely lukewarm take to say Michael Keaton is great, but Michael Keaton is great, and I’m always so glad to see someone take Sorkin’s dialogue and play it understated. That’s an actor with vision and restraint right there; while everyone else wants those juicy Sorkin monologues to launch them onto the stage at the Oscars, Keaton went in the opposite direction, so much so he almost gives off the sense that he didn’t want to be there. You da man, Keaton.
I get why Sorkin wanted to make this movie: it’s a chance to get back into the courtroom where he can write those back-and-forths that snap like pop rocks in your mouth and he can do that while drawing attention to an important cause. I’m all for that. But, now that he’s gone and made his important, issue-driven film, I urge him to please, please go back to writing stories that don’t necessarily matter as much in the grand scheme of things but feel like they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders when he’s putting their story to paper.