Molly’s Game is an entertaining look at a fascinating true story, powered by an excellent script and captivating performances.
Famous for penning screenplays to acclaimed dramas such as A Few Good Men and The Social Network, Molly’s Game marks the first time Oscar-winning scribe Aaron Sorkin stepped behind the camera to helm a feature film. Over the course of his illustrious career, he has developed a distinct style that’s been memorably translated by some of the industry’s top filmmakers, but Sorkin felt he had to tackle this story himself. Directorial debuts are always a tricky proposition, but armed with a fascinating narrative and a stellar cast, the hope was Sorkin would be able to show his skillset goes well beyond putting words to page, and that’s certainly the case. Molly’s Game is an entertaining look at an intriguing true story, powered by an excellent script and captivating performances.
Competitive skier Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) sees her Olympic hopes and sports career end when she suffers a gruesome injury, forcing her to forge a new path in life. Putting off law school, Molly moves to Los Angeles and lands an office assistant job working for Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong). Molly is soon tasked with organizing high-stakes poker games Dean runs for Hollywood’s elite, which greatly improves her financial standing. When things fall apart with Dean, Molly takes matters into her own hands and puts together her own game for wealthy clients.
The business venture proves to be quite successful for Molly, but things come screeching to a halt when the FBI raids her home as part of an investigation into Russian mob activities. Left without any of the money she made and desperate to protect her name, Molly turns to the legal counsel of Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) to weigh her options – either cooperate with authorities and give up all the information she has on her poker players or go to prison.
Sorkin delivers another screenplay loaded with his trademark rapid-fire dialogue that packs a punch. A majority of the film’s runtime consists simply of people talking to each other about their situations, and there’s great joy to be had in hearing the veteran writer’s words bring life to this tale. Every part from the principal players to smallest supporting roles get the proper amount of shading so that no character feels inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. There are numerous lines that pop out and stick with the viewer long after the credits have rolled, making Sorkin’s latest work worthy of the awards attention it’s receiving. Sorkin also deserves credit for distilling the somewhat complicated nature of poker by presenting that information in a way that’s easily accessible. He doesn’t harp on the intricacies of the game, giving the audience the broad strokes they need to understand Molly’s story.
That a Sorkin script is exemplary is nothing new. What is a pleasant surprise is the adeptness he shows as a director. Molly’s Game runs close to 2.5 hours and never feels its length, a testament to Sorkin’s grasp of storytelling and pace. The film briskly moves along, keeping viewers engaged throughout the narrative’s various twists and turns. The approach Sorkin takes is very reminiscent of Martin Scorsese (complete with voice-over), but never comes across as cheap imitation. He’s able to firmly establish his own voice with this movie, showing that he’s learned well from the master craftsmen he’s collaborated with in the past. This year has seen numerous stellar directorial debuts, and Molly’s Game is no exception. Not all of the directorial choices are perfectly seamless, but what Sorkin accomplishes is very impressive.
Sorkin deserves a lion’s share of the credit for how the film turned out, but there’s no denying this is Jessica Chastain’s show. The Oscar-nominee gives a typical powerhouse performance, painting Bloom as a dynamic and interesting character with a plethora of discernible strengths and flaws. What’s asked of Chastain (handling Sorkin’s snappy dialogue while carrying the entire movie on her shoulders) is no easy task, and she’s definitely game for it. This is undoubtedly one of the best turns of her career to date, as she relishes in the material with her magnetic screen presence and natural talent. Much like the script, Chastain has more than earned the numerous accolades she’s received on the awards circuit, and she could be in line for another Academy Award nod here.
Not to be outdone, the cast around Chastain is terrific as well. Of the supporting roles, Elba has the meatiest one as a well-intentioned lawyer trying to help Molly find what’s best for her. Chastain and Elba play off each other nicely, developing a fantastic chemistry that makes all of their exchanges crackle with energy. After an arguably disappointing stretch for the actor the past few months, it’s great to see Elba close the year on a high note, as he gets several moments to shine and display his abilities. Kevin Costner plays Molly’s demanding father Larry, and what could have been a two-dimensional stereotype evolves into something much better, as Larry and Molly have an emotional through-line that pays off in a very rewarding way towards the end. Other actors, like Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, and Chris O’Dowd, have smaller roles, but all leave an impression.
Molly’s Game may not be getting as much Oscar buzz as other films this season, but cinephiles should certainly check it out now that it’s playing in theaters nationwide. The film announces Sorkin’s arrival as a director (not just a screenwriter) to watch, and if this is any indication, he’ll only improve as he gains more experience in that capacity. It helps the filmmaker is working with such a talented ensemble, and in the early days of January (usually the doldrums for new releases), there aren’t many films that can top Chastain and Elba at the top of their games reciting a Sorkin screenplay. For viewers crossing titles off their awards “to-watch” lists, this is one they shouldn’t miss.
Molly’s Game is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 140 minutes and is rated R for language, drug content, and some violence.
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