By now you’ve heard all about the showrunner — and debutante — and how he writes actors like they’re celestial beings.
The scene Sorkin wrote for “The West Wing” was so extraordinary to director Steven Spielberg it inspired a movie of the same name. When Sorkin started his own Broadway show, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” Tony award-winning director Mike Nichols mentored him in the stage business.
Now Sorkin is looking to the arts for validation once again as he bids to lead the Hollywood scene with his latest effort, “Molly’s Game.”
He penned the story of Molly Bloom, a skating champ and former Olympic skater who attempted to establish herself in the movie business after leaving the Olympic sport. She later morphed into a high-stakes poker game organizer and pleaded guilty in 2011 to three felonies.
Sorkin’s stock certainly rose once his West Wing character, a bright, quixotic woman who nevertheless ended up on the short-time board of directors of Social Security, died under murky circumstances. It gave Sorkin an opportunity to explore government ethics in what he essentially called a “how government works” drama.
Ever since, Hollywood has clamored to accommodate Sorkin, a first-class mind defined by another first-class talent: writing. (That’s why the Star Trek franchise gets the better end of the bargain, an obvious tipoff of the showrunner’s approach.)
This is where Sorkin differs from a playwright like Larry David, who makes a career out of mocking the absurdities of his age. Sorkin has embraced the heights of his talent and has refused to repeat himself, whether that means making an outlandish modern-day fairy tale like “Charlie Wilson’s War” or writing a more complicated and romantic bio drama about his own life, like “Steve Jobs.”
In “Charlie Wilson’s War,” Sorkin trained his keen eye on how when middle-class families send their children to expensive private schools, wealthy nations like the United States manipulate them. He wrote a poignant line about a school scandal in which “parents feel bad” and “(y)ou get people who never had kids to drive them to all the different restaurants that change the menu every five minutes to make it really clear that the kids you took to make them kids are now trying to get you to be their kids.”
In “Steve Jobs,” Sorkin wrote a series of high-quality screenplays showing the early years of the iconic Apple co-founder, much like “Molly’s Game” may do for Molly Bloom, as she deals with game-running for profit in the shadow of a rich and powerful clientele.
Here are a few examples of Sorkin’s writing, though in no way limited to his TV and film work:
• Sorkin’s line about Angela Bassett’s Daisy, about to be bullied by the so-called “kingpins,” another rich and powerful clientele: “I don’t want to use an airplane prop,” Bassett’s character explains, “but I’m not going to be bullied again.”
• In “The Social Network,” Sorkin wrote a brilliant scene that neatly captures the power of the media, a medium he presumably wants to see remain modern. “Amen, amen,” says Mark Zuckerberg. “All good thoughts,” replies Brad Pitt’s character, à la Sorkin, who’s admiring him. But when Pitt goes on to extol the virtues of social media itself, Zuckerberg muses, “Whom do we have to thank? The character on the train who said a few rude things about what I was doing.”
To repeat, all but two of Sorkin’s successful shows deal with complicated subjects. Success is a sign that he is brilliant enough to transcend all stardom, aided by the ongoing appearance of Tony awards and Hollywood pedigree.