Aaron Sorkin’s latest is a rousing courtroom drama that is more relevant than one would hope. The only thing I knew about this film was that it showcased some of my favorite actors, namely Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Yaya Abdul Mateen II, and John Carrol Lynch. I didn’t know anything about the actual trial in question, so I cannot comment on the historical accuracy of the film.
I saw Sorkin’s directorial debut “Molly’s Game” in 2017 and was a little disappointed by it. It was an interesting film but the pacing was long and it was really only saved by its script. The direction and visual components didn’t elevate his writing like some of his great collaborators, such as Fincher, have in the past. So I went into this film expecting similar results and I’m happy to say it was a big improvement. This film got out of its own way and just focused on the story. The visuals were very naturalistic, nothing too stylized, and the film utilized some actual footage of the that event in history. The recreations were very compelling with the edit sometimes flashing between the film and the actual footage to dramatic effect. The ensemble was very high profile and sometimes that can distract from the story but the casting was amazing, and many of these actors really disappeared into their characters. The entire ensemble was great, but some standouts in my opinions were Frank Langella, Sacha Baron Cohen, and YaYa Abdul Mateen II. Langella played a very detestable and incompotent Judge and he was absolutely infuriating, which is exactly what he was written to be. Abdul-Matten as Bobby Seale commanded attention in every scene he was in, and brought a subtle vulnerability to a very stoic character.
The dialogue is as good as you would expect from a Sorkin script. Though I feel like some of the comedy falls a little flat. There is a musicality to his dialogue that is unmistakable. You always know when your watching a Sorkin film and that can be a positive or negative for some viewers.
I really enjoyed this one. The fact that he wrote this in 2007 is crazy. I’m sure some revisions were made to dramatize its relevance today, but not much I’d suspect. This was a very powerful film, with a powerful message, and it is one I could see cleaning up at awards season.