Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Very Aaron Sorkin Christmas

It wasn't like I decided to hand over my festive season to the writing genius behind A Few Good Men and the West Wing (the second of which I have never seen). It just happened that way. I won't bother to recap Mr. Sorkin's career, since any information I lay out here would be cribbed from the previously-linked wikipedia article.

But it's kinda interesting that the guy's done maybe three big movies, two plays and two television shows and I've nevertheless been immersed in his work for an entire holiday weekend. What you get from the experience is some very zippy dialogue, some rather hamfisted commentary, and a lot of swearing (did I mention I had my mother-in-law in tow? NICE).

The Farnsworth Invention was meant to be a screenplay and it shows. Lots of costume changes and set changes, and an avalanche of facts and anecdotes. Really quite fun, especially if, like me, you're given to confuse great art with the elegant conveyance of vast amounts of information

There's slightly less swearing in this one, and Hank Azaria's Dave Sarnoff is salty enough to give you the impression he's doing it much more. I can't say that the performances were amazingly amazing, though it's only fair to point out just how many characters some of the cast have to take on.

The script takes a few liberties with the storyline (alright, the storyline as presented on wikipedia and here), though there's a knowing exchange halfway through the first act where, in a very similar fashion to 24 Hour Party People, we're asked not to place too much reliance on people's memories.

Young Philo Farnsworth, the inventor protagonist, seems to have come out better from the events than the play might suggest. Sure, he didn't end up owning television, but he did pretty well by it, and aside from a teensy drinking problem, does not seem to have made the missteps that might cast him as a true tragic hero. Still, if you're looking for a rollicking intellectual property yarn on Broadway, the play doesn't do half badly.

Charlie Wilson's War I liked much more, because the story was a little more straightforward, if no doubt simplified, and the swearing and wisecracking became part of the point of the film. Why on earth did we entrust the fate of a small Asian country to a gang of good-time boys, renegade CIA agents and religious fanatics? Why did so few of the protagonists seem disinclined to think of their involvement more clearly?

Well probably because they saw it as a chance to make some zippy points and call in some favours. Sorkin's nicest touch, as he can't help but point out, is to make the bloodthirsty General Zia the most dignified character. It's particularly poignant on the day that Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of his most famous victim, was herself assassinated. There's a lot of condemnation, but, conspicuously, no real plan on how ton confront the craziness coming out of Pakistan.

The dark drama has lent the movie a context that Sorkin left to his viewers' imagination. He's one lucky screenwriter, and it's only fair, since Farnsworth was almost a victim of the stage-hands' strike.


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