Timecode: 18:11 – 22:45
We go back a while, [Matthew]. We went to the Academy together, we were commissioned together, we did our tours in Vietnam together. But I’ve been promoted up through the chain with greater speed and success than you have. Now, if that’s a source of tension or embarrassment for you…I don’t give a shit.
When I was in fourth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Charles, gave the student with the highest score on the previous week’s spelling test the honor of announcing the new spelling words each Monday. Ostensibly, this meant that Brian Schulte announced the new spelling words each week, because that Hooked on Phonics motherfucker never misspelled a word in his goddamn life. The moment I saw the 18 or 19 out of 20 written atop my test, I knew my fate was sealed. I’d come up short – yet again – in my quest to dethrone the King. And despite it happening each and every week, it rankled me to no end.
Brian and I were frenemies long before that term had even been invented, let alone popularized. Not only were we the two best spellers in our grade, we were in the same advanced math and reading groups. We took guitar lessons together as part of the school’s music program. We even played together every recess, usually as part of a one-on-one basketball tournament that the two of us had organized with our other (actual) friends.
If ever there was a living embodiment of the idiom, “familiarity breeds contempt”, it was my “friendship” with Brian. Due to a combination of geography, aptitude, and mutual interests, our life paths had been laid out in parallel. And yet, with every step we took, all I could think about was how much easier my life would be if I could push him off of the road and into a ditch, where he’d never be heard from again.
Which is all to say, I couldn’t be more #TeamMarkinson if I tried. I am Team Markinson¹, okay?
So, it took 18 minutes and change, but our movie finally has its dragon: Col. Nathan R. Jessep. And he starts breathing fire (and chewing up scenery) right outta the gate, as dragons are wont to do. There is so very much to like about this scene, but three things stand out:
1) The Chain of Command (a.k.a. A Military-Sanctioned Pissing Contest)
What this movie does best is populate scenes with incredible actors, supply them with manna from heaven², and then, let them eat. And because the cast is almost entirely male (save for Jo and Aunt Ginny), the vast majority of these scenes devolve into outright pissing contests — this scene merely being the first of many examples. I mean, by the time Lt. Col. Markinson and Lt. Kendrick are done squabbling over the “Curtis Bell incident” and Col. Jessep reminds Markinson that he’s his superior officer, you half expect the three of them to pull out their dicks for a more definitive comparison. Of course, by scene’s end, there’s little confusion about who’s the cock of this walk. Which leads us to…
2) Jack (a.k.a. The Cock of the Walk)
In some ways, expanding on this point feels like overkill, given how much weight the man’s name carries. But what is this blog, really, if not one long exercise in overkill?
By arming Jack with an arsenal of Grade-A fucking monologues, you’re essentially serving up Triple X-rated word porn to the viewer. The man can make a meal out of a look, so giving him the chance to lay waste to a well-crafted speech almost seems unfair to his fellow actors. (I’ve always been particularly fond of the way he intonates the line, “Yes, I’m certain that I read that somewhere once.”)
My friend and fellow AFGM-acolyte, Marc, has been known to affectionately refer to Aaron Sorkin as “The (latter day) Bard” (a.k.a. The LDB). And if you think about the marriage between script and actor through that lens, teaming Sorkin’s words with Nicholson’s delivery is the closest we’ve come to dramatic nirvana since Sir Laurence Olivier tackled “The (o.g.) Bard” in Hamlet. At least until…
3) Josh Malina opens the door into our hearts (a.k.a. The Tom Experience!)
In a scene that includes no less than a three-time Oscar winner, one of the greatest character actors of his generation, and Jack fucking Bauer, one man – and one man only – rises above the fray. That man is Joshua Malina.
You’d be hard-pressed to find an actor more inexorably intertwined with Sorkin’s career. Malina not only made his big screen debut in AFGM, he was also a part of the play’s original cast on Broadway³ three years earlier. Since that time, he’s appeared in two other Sorkin-penned films (Malice and The American President) and starred in Sorkin’s first two television series (Sports Night⁴ and The West Wing). I mean, shit, the guy even co-hosts a weekly podcast devoted to The LDB’s magnum opus (The West Wing Weekly)⁵.
But none of that would have been possible without this scene. Without his dutiful portrayal of the man described in the script simply as “Orderly”. The man we now know as Tom.
“Sir.” “Yes, Sir.” “Yes, Sir.”
Five words, ladies and gentlemen. That’s all it took to give birth to a Sorkinian legend.