13 July 2022

The Trial Of The Chicago 7

I thoroughly enjoyed Aaron Sorkin’s film and was dazzled by some of the performances. And I hated the politics of the way it presented the history.

To understand my frustrations, mild spoilers below.

On bare facts the film is okay. It takes a large number of small liberties with historical details, and a handful of understandable big liberties. One of the big revisions is that the treatment of Bobby Seale in the courtroom, which feels like imaginary movie theatrics, is actually dramatically toned down from what really happened. So it goes with historical dramas, in the name of telling the story. I gather that Slate’s list running down the particulars is pretty good, if you want them.

But on the texture, it is much more frustrating. There are some high points — “we see a cop do something you don’t ever wanna see a cop do” is a shattering line in context of the film and the world we have now — but it is fundamentally a misrepresentation of the meaning of the story, who the Seven were, and what they stood for.

The heart of the problem is the treatment of Abbie Hoffman. Sasha Baron Cohen is breathtaking in the role and Aaron Sorkin’s knack for writing smart characters who feel like they talk like real smart people talk communicates how Hoffman, for all his deliberate clowning, was very very smart and very very purposeful. And vigor of that portrayal makes the problem with it all the more galling as a demonstration of the general problem of the movie.

Much of the film concerns friction between Abbie Hoffman and Tom Hayden. At the start of Act III the movie gives us a Sorkin-tastic moment in which they have The Conversation in which they reveal that they Truly Respect One Another. I admire Sorkin’s mastery of dialogue and story structure and the scene is, as craft, terrific. As is often the case with Sorkin’s writing, while I was watching I fell under his spell and found it moving in the way I was supposed to.

But in that scene Movie Hoffman says a thing about his aims which would have repulsed Real Hoffman. Sorkin does not understand the left, thinks he does, and thinks he can bend left voices to speak for his undercooked mushy liberalism. Abbie Hoffman wanted a transformative leftist revolution. He was working for one. He believed that he and his movement would achieve it. He wanted to save the lives of American soldiers, yes, but he understood that the moral urgency was in saving the lives of Vietnamese people.

If you understand that, you will see what is wrong with The Conversation, the climax, and the whole film.

After you have seen the movie, I recommend checking out some critical commentaries:

No comments: