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To Kill a Mockingbird vs. Aaron Sorkin

February 16, 2016
Atticus Finch had many fine qualities, but the ability to engage in rapid-fire witty dialogue was not one of them. (image via wikimedia)

Atticus Finch had many fine qualities, but the ability to speed-talk in rapid-fire, witty dialogue was not one of them. (image via wikimedia)

It could be a great idea or a really bad idea. Hollywood writer Aaron Sorkin (famous for stuff like The West Wing, The Social Network, and much more) is writing a screenplay for a Broadway version of Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, set to open sometime in 2017-2018.  Some guy I’ve never heard of is helping him, but Sorkin is getting most of the attention.

A Sorkin-Broadway production of To Kill a Mockingbird might be a bad idea.  If I were an actor, the one role I wouldn’t want to play would be Atticus Finch, because I wouldn’t want to be compared to Gregory Peck.  And if I were a script writer, the one novel I wouldn’t want to touch would be To Kill a Mockingbird, because I wouldn’t want to be compared to Truman Capote.

We won’t know if it’s a great idea or a bad idea until the screenplay is written, and even then, critics will still probably disagree about whether the script is good or not.  Sorkin scripts can be a bit polarizing.

Sorkin has a reputation for writing great dialogue, but some critics claim that he writes clever dialogue.  The dialogue isn’t necessarily great, detractors say, because most of his characters talk the same way, with speed, wit, and lots of self-importance.  I understand that.  To me, it sometimes feels like Sorkin is showing off with his dialogue rather than writing characters.  Nobody I know talks like a Sorkin character.  In fact, where I work, people who talk like Aaron Sorkin characters would get fired.

Sorkin dialogue is easy to spot.  When I watched the movie Moneyball, I could tell within a few minutes that Aaron Sorkin had written it.  It made sense that Aaron Sorkin would write the movie version of MoneyballMoneyball by Michael Lewis was a numbers-crunching book.  Audiences don’t want to sit through a numbers-crunching movie.  Nobody wants that, not even number-crunchers.

Anyway, a few minutes into the movie, a character in Moneyball said something fast and witty, and I asked my wife, “Did Aaron Sorkin write this movie?”

Sure enough, my wife confirmed that he had, and all the number crunching in the movie was done in fast and witty style.  I still would have watched it even if I had known Sorkin had written it.  I don’t hate his scripts or anything.  But he has a distinct writing style that could conflict with the mood and tone of To Kill A Mockingbird.

Sorkin also has a reputation for repeating certain lines and certain schtick.  I don’t need to chronicle Sorkin’s tendencies.  Others have done a much better job (like here in this Sorkinisms video) than I could ever do.

I’m also concerned about the children in To Kill a Mockingbird, and not in a political “Let’s do this for… the children!” kind of way.  There are a lot of kids roles in To Kill a Mockingbird, and Hollywood writers are notoriously bad at writing kids.

Hollywood likes to write witty kids.  I know a lot of kids, and none of them (even the witty fast-talkers) talk the way Hollywood kids talk.  I’ve stopped watching some popular television shows because the kids are written so poorly.  The shows have other issues, but I like to blame the kids.  If Sorkin’s version of To Kill a Mockingbird is poorly received, he should blame the kids.  I mean, he himself shouldn’t blame the kids.  That would make him look bad.  He should hire somebody else to blame the kids so that it doesn’t look like he’s doing it.

Sorkin shouldn’t have to change much in his screenplay anyway.  The novel To Kill a Mockingbird has pretty good dialogue.  He might want to shorten some of the sentences in the dialogue, but he shouldn’t have to resort to any of his tricks (characters forgetting names, characters correcting each other’s grammar, characters slapping each other on the back of the head).  He will have to condense a lot of scenes.  If anything, his talents might be wasted on To Kill a Mockingbird.

Maybe he should write a screenplay for another American classic that needs it more,  like The Catcher in the Rye. That needs a damn lot of improvement.  In fact, it needs to be improved like hell.  Too much damn whining in that damn book.  Too much damn whining like hell.


What do you think?  What other beloved classic novels would you like to see performed on stage?  Does Aaron Sorkin write great dialogue, clever dialogue, or both?  What television shows or movies have child actors/actresses ruined?


  1. I like Alan Sorkin. I enjoyed Moneyball. I have 7 grandchildren and 4 of them are already very “clever” and “witty.” I don’t think smart or clever dialogue is “fake.” I have several people in my life who can make me “crack up!” 😀
    I agree, Gregory Peck is a slower paced yet intelligent actor who did a fantastic job performing the character of Atticus. The play should be careful to be “true” to the book.

    • Of course your grandchildren are clever and witty. I would expect nothing less (and I’m not being sarcastic).

      It’s everybody else’s children and grandchildren who ruin everything… everybody else’s children except mine and anybody else who reads this blog.

  2. I’d like to see Sorkin rewrite Dr. Seuss’s books.

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