Category Archives: Writer Series: Aaron Sorkin

Steve Jobs (2015)

97% of Steve Jobs is nearly perfect. Much like the products borne of the man’s unparalleled creative vision, everything in his latest biographical film is optimized, streamlined, rounded when the edge should be rounded, sharp when the edge should be sharp, forward-thinking, life-changing, and pitched to be perfect. The performances are subtle and explosive, depending on which character you’re dealing with. The drama is heavy-duty; the comedy is excitingly witty. The pacing of the whole film is breathless. And the writing — whew, the writing — Aaron Sorkin has probably never been this good or done this much with a film script. This is ostensibly The Social Network 2.0, a story about a genius/jerk who defined the times for the rest of us, except Steve Jobs has a richer character in the driver’s seat.

And in comparing the two, that leftover 3% only becomes all the more glaring. The structure of the film is unique, built over three days in history: the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, the launch of the NeXT computer in 1988, and the launch of the iMac in 1998. The aforementioned breathlessness of the film is derived from setting each episode immediately before these launches, as that’s probably the most stressful and nerve-wracking collection of hours in any product launcher’s life. No different in Steve Jobs. Jobs needs everything to be perfect, every address to start exactly on time, every personal grievance from his staff and family (of which there are many, and between which the words staff and family mean less and less) to be voiced and dealt with. “It seems like five minutes before every launch, people go to a bar and get drunk and decide to air their grievances,” says Jobs.

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Moneyball (2011)

We may never lose again.

So says a fan-made poster in one of the archival shots from Bennett Miller’s Moneyball. It’s a yellow poster with green marker-drawn capital letters on it, held overhead by an unseen Oakland A’s fan. Though the film seamlessly incorporates newly-shot game footage into the ancient history of 2002, the majority of the footage in this particular montage is real. Fans hold posters, they exchange high-fives; players whack homers, they round bases, they exchange high-fives. The A’s were on an unprecedented winning streak, crushing every team they met and hurtling towards an unheard-of twenty wins in a row. The sequence in Moneyball is dubbed simply “The Streak”:

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The Social Network (2010)

Though Charlie Wilson’s War marks the first time Aaron Sorkin mined a true story for dramatic purposes, it’s likely that we have The Social Network to thank for the shift to biopics becoming Sorkin’s modus operandi of late. Though Wilson did a more-than-passable job of telling a less-than-well-known story, Sorkin’s Network dips behind the scenes of something that pretty much everyone knows about. It’s more grand, more ambitious in that sense, despite the subject matter being a website as opposed to a global war, and it’s the same ambition that was found in Moneyball and hopefully will soon be found in the upcoming Steve Jobs.

Of course, the primary challenge with bringing biographical accounts to the big screen is accuracy — which, as we’ll return to in a moment, isn’t exactly the same thing as truth. It’s one thing if the subject of the film is still alive; it’s an entirely different thing if the subject of the film is still essentially “the same person”, with only a few measly years (and in this case a few measly millions of dollars) passed between the events of the film and the film itself. Think of Oliver Stone’s upcoming Snowden or last year’s woeful Julian Assange movie The Fifth Estate, both of which purport to reveal some kind of truth about a series of real-life occurrences that just so happen to still be occurring. Black Mass just opened in Boston to theaters full of people who are portrayed in the film. At this rate, we’re going to enter some weird Minority Report-type paradox where biopics start coming out before the people they’re about even accomplish anything worthy of a film.

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Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)

If this is Charlie Wilson’s War, then we’re the ones losing it. That’s part of the message at the conclusion of Aaron Sorkin’s script for Charlie Wilson’s War, based on the book of the same name by George Crile. “The ball keeps on bouncing,” Charlie says to the government suits that deny him what he needs to properly put his crusade to rest, and he repeats himself purposefully — “the ball keeps on bouncing.” This line is at the heart of this particular act of War, and as with many of Sorkin’s works the seemingly-muddled message is really just an unusually demanding one, designed for interpretation by those on either side of a given political line.

The movie starts and ends with the same scene: Charlie, the Reagan-era Texan House Representative inhabited here by Tom Hanks, stands onstage waiting to be introduced. There’s a banner hanging across the back of the hall that’s somewhat difficult to read, but it clearly says CHARLIE in BIG LETTERS. The moderator says a few words about this man, this wonderful man, and Charlie approaches the rostrum to a standing ovation. His chest is slightly puffed out — just slightly — and Charlie smiles the Tom Hanks smile. The message in this scene is clear: he did it.

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Enemy of the State (1998)

Wait a minute – Aaron Sorkin wrote Enemy of the State? Before we get too deep into false advertising here, let it be known that “rewrites” and “script edits” are terms that are extremely broad and ill-defined in most cases. Yes, Sorkin was brought on for rewrites of the Enemy of the State script by David Marconi; no, it’s not clear how much of the film is “his”, at least not in any explicit way. Sorkin presently has no credit for his work on the film, no listing on IMDb or anywhere else, although an early poster (later redacted) did feature his name right after Marconi’s:

Enemy of the State Sorkin

“Written by David Marconi AND Aaron Sorkin AND Henry Bean AND Tony Gilroy” – phew.  That many cooks in the kitchen usually isn’t a good sign – maybe bringing to mind Stanley Kubrick’s quote about one man writing a novel, one man writing a symphony, and one man making a film – but Sorkin’s name would eventually be struck, as would Bean’s and Gilroy’s, and Sorkin’s reputation as a controlling “sole credit” scriptwriter would presumably grow from there.

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Malice (1993)

Malice is without a doubt the odd duck in the Aaron Sorkin filmography. More so than possibly any modern American screenwriter, Sorkin is now synonymous with “politics”, with work that peers into the lives of the men and women who already live under intense scrutiny – The West Wing is possibly still his greatest example in this regard, but The American President and Charlie Wilson’s War deal in similar arenas. A Few Good Men also exists in this vein, as does the tech-giant exploration The Social Network; neither are about politicians per se, but “politics” is broader than simply politicians. Sorkin’s politics exist in the hot topics of today, whether it’s the relationship between foreign powers or relationship status between two of your friends on Facebook. One can imagine that Jobs, Sorkin’s upcoming biopic on the late Apple founder, will continue this trend.

But Malice, Sorkin’s second produced screenplay, isn’t about famous people. Instead, it’s about incredibly moronic people. Bill Pullman stars as Andy, mild-mannered loving husband to Nicole Kidman’s Tracy. One day they meet Alec Baldwin’s Jed, a hotshot surgeon who used to go to high school with Andy. They hit it off and Jed rents the room above Andy and Tracy because he’s new in town. Meanwhile, a series of vicious attacks on local women occurs – and when one ends in murder, things begin to hit closer to home for Andy.

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A Few Good Men (1992)

Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men first appeared as a play in 1989, three years before it would be adapted into a feature film from a major studio. Removing All Doubt and the one-act Hidden in This Picture, Sorkin’s first plays, would boost his reputation in the New York theatre scene prior to any associations with Hollywood, but it was A Few Good Men that would garner greater praise and sell as film rights before the play even premiered. Sorkin’s theatre experience would certainly inform his style of writing in his film and television scripts going forward, and the adapted script for A Few Good Men is a prime example of that influence.

Loosely based on a real-life series of events, A Few Good Men concerns itself with a murder at a Guantanamo Bay Marine base. Lieutenant and Army lawyer Daniel Kaffee, played by Tom Cruise, is ultimately assigned to the case along with Demi Moore’s JoAnne Galloway and Kevin Pollak’s Sam Weinberg. Resistance meets the defense team largely in the form of Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Nathan Jessup, who tends to pop up only every now and then throughout A Few Good Men in order to steal scenes from under Cruise’s nose in typical Nicholson fashion. Cruise was at the time on a tear of Nicole Kidman collaborations (following Days of Thunder and Far and Away), so the military courtroom drama was likely a welcome change of pace.

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