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Aaron Sorkin was probably born in the wrong era. And yet here he is, still kicking in 2017. His characters operate under an impossibly witty and clever language, engaging in exchanges only experienced in the movies of Howard Hawks or Frank Capra. It’s fueled by a rapid-fire repartee. For better or worse, Sorkin has replicated this breathless style of dialogue. With the upcoming release of Molly’s Game, Sorkin’s directorial debut, we decided to rank every film the man has penned over the course of 25 years.
- “Malice” (1993)
Sorkin’s shoddiest screenplay is also his most dated. In “Malice”, Nicole Kidman plays a happily married woman who wants to have children and start a family. Upon a visit to the hospital, she finds herself under the care of Jed (Alec Baldwin). It’s quickly made clear that Jed is some kind of malevolent figure. Someone to not be trusted. Directed by Harold Becker, it’s actually Sorkin’s writing that is the most clumsy. “You ask me if I have a God complex?” asks Baldwin, before continuing. “Let me tell you something: I am God.” Yikes.
- “Molly’s Game” (2017)
Off the top: Sorkin is a writer first and everything else second. That includes the role of filmmaker. Sorkin’s prose sings under the direction of David Fincher or Mike Nichols. Assured talents whose visions are inimitable. Here Sorkin–adapting from Molly Bloom’s book–has difficulty with pulling off double-duty. The language is still sharp and cutting, but the bite isn’t there. Surprisingly, Molly packs little punch.
- “Steve Jobs” (2015)
This unorthodox imagining of Steve Jobs’ life should work better than it does. Under Danny Boyle, there are moments of power. The heated exchanges between Michael Fassbender and Seth Rogen; the even more heated exchanges between Fassbender and Jeff Daniels. Sorkin does anger perfectly. Fragmenting Jobs’ varied career into a triptych structure ends up undoing some of its narrative impact.
- “A Few Good Men” (1992)
Movies like “A Few Good Men”–i.e. ones with monumentally popular lines of dialogue–become mythologized in the culture. This is an unavoidable tendency. We gravitate to what we can easily recall. Dramatic sequences like the goodbye in “Casablanca” or Marlon Brandon’s tragic lamenting in “On the Waterfront”. Moving past Jack Nicholson’s “you can’t handle the truth” throw-down, the Rob Reiner-directed courtroom drama is more subtle than we remember. It derives strength from its performances (namely Tom Cruise and Demi Moore) who use Sorkin’s words to great affect.
- “Charlie Wilson’s War” (2007)
Look, this one is just fun. Re-watching the Mike Nichols’ directed biopic about the titular Texas congressmen (Tom Hanks), it’s clear Sorkin’s work plays better if its, well, playful. The less serious the project takes it self, the stronger it ends up being. That’s not a general rule–but it is when it comes to Sorkin’s filmography. “Charlie Wilson” shines when it narrows its focus on the complex (sometimes romantic) dynamic between Hanks and Julie Roberts. Sorkin seems interested in exploring relationships that oscillate from person to professional. The lines are blurred, and that’s when characters become interesting.
- “Moneyball” (2011)
Sorkin is best when adapting events that (on the page) don’t appear inherently cinematic. “Moneyball” is a film about number-crunching statisticians obsessed with a calculable solution to sport. Like most of Sorkin’s work, it benefits from two factors: it’s directed by Bennett Miller, and it casts a movie star like Brad Pitt. Oh, and then there’s Robin Wright, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jonah Hill, Spike Jonze, the list goes on. Michael Lewis’ book may have discovered the story of the Oakland A’s, but it’s Sorkin who unearths the heart.
- “The American President” (1995)
That could be the end of this capsule, but let’s continue. “The American President” is not based on a true story. It’s not adapting an acclaimed New York Times bestseller. Sorkin’s script is simply an amalgamation of his desires: politics, sex, and power (note: not always in that order). Starring Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, every frame of this movie feels like an anomaly in 2017–and it’s not just because Douglas’ is an irresistibly charming Commander-in-Chief. It’s an Adult endeavor. A drama that’s not Oscar-bait (although it did receive one nomination for original score) or contrived, with no intentions of spinoffs or sequels. It’s about two people abating loneliness through love, and how that is made a bit more challenging when one person is running the free world.
- “The Social Network”
Sorkin’s filmic output can’t compare to his work on television. Maybe that’s harsh, but it’s definitely the truth. All things considered, it’s “The Social Network” that ends being Sorkin’s crowning achievement. The actors–especially Jesse Eisenberg playing infamous Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg–understand Sorkin’s intent. They lean into the nastiness when the script asks for it, and replicate the epigrammatic wit that Sorkin has been chasing since the early ’90s. Above all, though, the film finds a remarkable emotional balance. Neither effusive nor dry, “Social Network” is unafraid of vulnerability. It’s not just jokes or just gut-wrenching drama. Sorkin, like anyone else, can so rarely manage to do both well. But he does here. When it hits it hits. There’s a deep sadness that Sorkin captures in Zuckerberg. Egotism gone awry, youthful creativity turned into commerce, friendship jettisoned for, well, greener pastures.
It’s a true masterpiece.