Molly’s Game, the newest from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin—and also his directorial debut—is full of colorful characters and fast moving, predictably clever dialogue. It’s also so entertainingly laid out that it’s almost possible to forgive the absolutely terrible people who populate the story for the lives they ruined and the amount of needless suffering that came from it all. It also hints at a glamorous world where the incredibly wealthy can win and lose amounts of money in a single night that most won’t see in a lifetime. And because of its glamour—a word first used to mean magical enchantment to make things appear better than they are—it’s easy to wish to be a part of that world. And that was Molly’s first problem.
Based on the book by the eponymous Bloom, the true story of her own undoing, Molly’s Game is also a complicated legal dramedy about her legal defense after an arrest by the FBI. Bloom ran a continuing series of poker games, first hosted by her terrible Hollywood employer in a thinly veiled “Cobra Lounge.” These games were incredibly exclusive thanks to the incredibly famous people who attended, including Hollywood celebrities, business moguls, and politicians. When she falls out with her employer, she opens her own games. What follows is a meteoric rise to the top of a multi-million-dollar secret industry and all the infamous pitfalls that come with that kind of quick success.
Kevin Costner and Jessica Chastain
Bloom built her “multi-million dollar empire with her wits” and, through Sorkin’s lens, her something-that-rhymes-with wits. (His male gaze is…overt.) Jessica Chastain, who has shown herself many times over to be a phenomenal actress, does not disappoint. If there’s any complain about her performance it would be the same as so many of Sorkin’s characters; they’re so logical and put-together that they rarely show the kind of emotion you might expect in moments of extreme duress.
This is a story about very bad and very damaged people and the myriad ways they inflict harm on themselves and others. But because it’s also an Aaron Sorkin picture, it’s about the delivery of snappy rat-a-tat dialogue, clever quips, and enough giggles to make you walk away feeling like you’ve just seen something bordering on uplifting. It isn’t, but it feels like it.
To speak of Sorkin’s directorial style, he seems to have borrowed a few recognizable tricks from the likes of Guy Ritchie and Steven Soderburgh, but they have proven effective and are used with good humor. A moment sits less agreeably is the one big emotional scene between Chastain with Kevin Costner as Molly’s father. The scene is shown with Costner always just a bit more in focus than Chastain, no matter who’s positioned more dominantly in the frame or who’s speaking. If there are two of them, he’s just a little more emphasized. This doesn’t make a huge difference in the story; it’s just something that isn’t a complete surprise for those who are familiar with Sorkin’s treatment of female characters in the past.
Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain
The supporting cast is solid, with Idris Elba again the voice of justice and ethical behavior, his accent inconsistent but everything else about him very likable. Chris O’Dowd and Brian D’Arcy James play hilarious repeat gamblers who have more significance than Molly realizes. Michael Cera plays a straight-up sociopath, which is an interesting and surprisingly unnerving departure for him, and there was an audible frisson in the theater when Joe Keery, fresh from Stranger Things, appears.
Overall, this is a tight, entertaining film. There are some generally honorable people who make huge mistakes, and deeply dishonorable people who like to watch others drown in those mistakes. As the story unfolds on two timelines—the flashbacks and the legal defense—a picture emerges of a woman who beats the odds time and again among the morally corrupt while maintaining some semblance of her own true moral compass.
She didn’t intend to hurt anyone she hurt, and because she experiences pain beyond what she could have foreseen with as little exposure to the criminal underbelly as she had, she goes out of her way to prevent anyone else from undue suffering. She’s a good woman in a bad man’s world. In that much at least she’s relatable. Molly’s Game is a fascinating story. It’s invigorating, thrilling and at times shocking. If you’re going to gamble on a good time, you could do a lot worse this holiday season.
Photo Credit: Michael Gibson; Motion Picture Artwork © 2017 STX Financing, LLC. All Rights Reserved.