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Molly’s Game (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

Molly’s Game


Starring Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, J.C. MacKenzie, Brian d’Arcy James, Bill Camp, Graham Greene, Justin Kirk, Angela Gots, Natalie Krill, Stephanie Herfield, Madison McKinley, Joe Keery, Michael Kostroff, Claire Rankin, Victor Serfaty and Whitney Peak.

Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin.

Directed by Aaron Sorkin.

Distributed by STXfilms. 141 minutes. Rated PG-13.

It seemed a little odd that acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The Social Network, The West Wing) would pick a semi-obscure true story about a beautiful young woman who gets mixed up in the glitzy world of big-bucks poker to be his directorial debut. However, it turns out that Molly’s Game is right in his wheel house, and has inspired his best screenplay since The Social Network.

Looking in, it turns out that Molly’s Game has a little bit of everything: money, drugs, gambling, beautiful women, mobsters, movie stars, rock stars, fancy cars, classy hotels, adultery, white-collar and blue-collar crime, sports, a little violence, big business, family issues. The whole lot.

It also has a fantastic cast luxuriating in some of the best dialogue that they will ever get. This may be Jessica Chastain’s best performance yet, and that is really saying something. And Idris Elba is able to erase the memory of his twin disappointing films earlier this year – The Dark Tower (which he was actually terrific in, but the movie wasn’t all that good) and The Mountain Between Us.

Molly’s Game is a complicated story: glitzy, exciting, glamorous and at the same time seedy. But it all comes down to the script. And that script slays.

Sorkin’s critics tend to complain that sometimes his dialogue is too slick, too well-prepared, too clever, a little cold, self-aware and sometimes a bit too glib. Truth is, those charges are not completely wrong in many cases. And yet, in a broader sense, I have to say fuck that. When a film is as exquisitely written as this one is, just enjoy the ride. Sorkin has one of the most distinctive cadences of any screenwriter in Hollywood, probably the best since fellow playwright-turned-screenwriter/director David Mamet turned Republican and lost his empathy and his ability to write for the common man.

Which is not to suggest that the characters in Sorkin’s Molly’s Game are in any way common. The people of Molly’s Games are movers and shakers, multi-millionaires and rock stars, trust-fund babies and hedge-fund managers, federal agents and lawyers, gangsters and heads of ponzi schemes.

Plucked down right in the middle of them is Molly Bloom (Chastain) a smart and savvy former Olympic hopeful whose athletic career was cut short due to a freak accident. Molly became estranged from her father (Kevin Costner), so she moved to Los Angeles to find her dream.

What seems to be a typical office job quickly has Molly working for a small-time gangster who is running a high stakes poker game for some local high rollers. Molly’s smarts, business and marketing acumen, and ability to skirt the line between legal and illegal quickly make this game the hottest draw in the city. When the gangster starts plotting to phase her out, Molly takes over her own game, making astronomic profits.

Then when she is double-crossed in LA, she moves the game across country to New York. But as things grow bigger, tougher, and faster, and Molly starts using drugs just to keep up, her careful adherence to the law starts to slip, leaving her vulnerable.

Things come crashing down when the FBI makes a huge sweep of organized crime, closing down hundreds of organized crime figures. The odd woman out in that list is Molly, who is also targeted even though she is a very small fish in a pond full of big fish.

The FBI is trying to pressure her to give up names in order to retain her freedom, but Molly refuses to throw anyone under the bus, knowing that if she released her client information many innocent lives would be ruined. So, she hires a smart and completely trustworthy lawyer (Elba) to plead her case with the Feds and the courts.

While I do not know this to be true personally, I have heard that Chastain plays Molly Bloom more as a variation of her own acting style than like the real Molly, who is supposed to be louder, brassier, less polished. If so, if this is a bit historically inaccurate, it is still a wise choice on the part of the filmmakers. Chastain nails this character, making her smart, sexy, funny, principled and not completely trustworthy.

The rest of the cast is pretty much as good. There are no weak spots here.

As a director, Sorkin does a fine job for his first time. His direction is slick, fast-moving, and luxuriates the fine material that his screenwriter – also Sorkin – has provided. All in all, the movie is a triumph.

Molly’s Game is a stunner and deserves to be on the short list for the best film of the year.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: December 25, 2017.

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