What’s the worst thing that can happen in sports? That’s the question voiced by the title character as the curtain goes up on Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut and latest produced screenplay since 2015’s Steve Jobs. The wording immediately conjures another Sorkin sports project, Moneyball, which followed Billy Beane’s seemingly-miraculous turnaround of the flailing Oakland A’s baseball club. That film was directed by Bennett Miller (sidebar: where’d Bennett Miller disappear to?) and contained a brilliant sequence dubbed The Streak: a quick-cut montage of the A’s unprecedented run of winning, winning, winning. We may never lose again, reads a poster in the stadium stands. Winning, you may have heard, is basically the best thing that can happen in sports.
The worst thing is more varied, more subjective, and far more interesting, at least as a concept for a narrative feature. It’s easy to see why Sorkin thought so, and easy to see why the writer was drawn to Molly Bloom’s account of her time hosting high-stakes underground poker games in L.A. and New York. Molly’s Game allows Sorkin to tap into the fast-paced verve of a sport (poker being “a game of skill,” as Molly asserts) that just so happens to require players to gather, seated, around a tense table. Molly herself is a quintessential Sorkin character in that she talks fast, has daddy issues, and is often the smartest person in the room by a longshot. Above all, the fact that Molly’s Game is a true story makes it all the more fitting for this writer’s wheelhouse.
Just now I googled “Tom Cruise best roles”, “Tom Cruise worst roles”, “Tom Cruise best movies” and “Tom Cruise worst movies”, partially because I’m interested to see where his role as Mitch McDeere in The Firm lands and partially because my boredom has reached carrying capacity. I found, unsurprisingly, that the internet does that thing where it reaches consensus about certain things being “good” and certain things being “bad”, which in this case is sometimes inarguable (A Few Good Men = “good”, Far and Away = “bad”) but sometimes weirdly unearned, as with the endless praise heaped upon Edge of Tomorrow or Cruise’s role in Tropic Thunder. The former is a fairly fun movie and the latter is a fairly funny movie, but to say that these number among Cruise’s best seems a stretch. Again, the common consensus surrounding mediocrity doesn’t exactly come as a shock.
What was surprising, though, is that not a single article or top ten list included Mitch McDeere or mentioned The Firm at all. “Good” and “bad” are complicated, sure, and you might even suggest that the overarching opinions of the internet’s burgeoning culture commentary is at fault for this, too, as if to say “those other guys didn’t claim The Firm to be a great Cruise movie, so we won’t either.” But not a single one mentioned The Firm. No outliers buried in a list to satiate the unconfessed desire of a film blogger, no mention of Mitch McDeere even in reference to another role. It’s like The Firm never registered as a Cruise flick. Putting aside common consensus and inescapable truth (Far and Away = “bad”), that just seemed strange.
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”:
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.
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.