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Is it 1968 or 2020? Sorkin becomes an activist on Netflix

Now that the United States has a new president, it is high time to go back to the Trial of the Chicago 7, the latest film directed by Aaron Sorkin (screenwriter of the highly praised serial political drama The West Wing, among others), released in cinemas first and then on Netflix.

The so-called “Chicago Seven” were tried following a number of incidents in August 1968, but the trial soon turned out to be vitiated. The film reconstructs, on the basis of the trial documents, what happened in court. But Sorkin immediately turns it into a metaphor that sounds like a reprimand of police violence, a few months after the killing of George Floyd.

The film was greatly appreciated by the critics: for Laura Puglisi (iO Donna) “Aaron Sorkin’s legal drama is an absolute must”.

Fabio Ferzetti (l’Espresso) defines it a «courtroom drama with lots of talk and very enjoyable, which depicts three different aspects: the political context, the actual trial – perhaps the best part of the film – and the background, perhaps somewhat pedagogical.»

Lorenzo Costaguta (Esquire) stresses the «good job the film does in immediately wiping out some distortions concerning the historical background (1968)».

Gabriele Niola (Wired) is a little more negative. He claims that «Aaron Sorkin’s second film as film director is technically impeccable, but the idea that’s driving him is certainly not so. It is easy to agree with his stance. But turning a real story into a comic strip, exasperating what is right and what is wrong, as if it were some sort of fictional thing, places the entire work on a very questionable moral ground. […] It appears he wants to tell the story the way it happened, but then he gives in to a biased view, which ultimately results in some sort of caricature. He mercilessly romanticises the story, digging out rationale and wrongdoings with a shovel, rather than illustrating them with a paintbrush.»

Guia Soncini (Linkiesta) interprets it while transposing it to present-day Italy: «There is a quarrel, towards the end of the film, between Abbie Hoffman, the hippie who wants the Vietnam war to end, and Tom Hayden, the brother separated at birth who had carried on his shoulder Bob Kennedy’s coffin. Tom – who looks like a politician of the old Italian Communist Party when he says “I don’t have time for cultural revolution, it distracts from the real revolution” – blames Abbie for being the cause of all future defeats of the left (wait a minute, is this a film set in 1970 or is it a 2020 editorial?), a left that everyone now associates with hippie bullshit rather than with serious issues; and he accuses him of not really wanting the war to end, for if the war ends, Abbie Hoffman will no longer be in the spotlight”.

Finally, Clara Mazzoleni (Rivista Studio) writes that «Those who cannot stand the style of film director and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin accuse him of reproposing his ‘tics’ in all his works: characters driven by such a pure idealism that they almost seem inhuman, heated political debates that gradually reach a climax, with one of the arguers crying out a key concept (followed by silence), prevalence of men talking over each other, pontificating about democracy and freedom, marginal roles for women. If The Trial of the Chicago 7 pans out it’s because we’re in the exact place where these ‘bothersome tics’ truly fit in: the famous trial of the Chicago seven, known to be one of the most verbose, wearying and paradoxical trials of all time.»

The only thing you can do now is watch the film, to see for yourself whether Sorkin – a renowned and experienced screenwriter, now also a director – has nailed it again or if this is one of his first missteps.

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Apparently we had reached a great height in the atmosphere, for the sky was a dead black, and the stars had ceased.

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