2017, R, 140 mins.
Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom / Idris Elba as Charlie Jaffey / Kevin Costner as Larry Bloom / Michael Cera as Player X / Brian d'Arcy James as Bad Brad
Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, based on the book by Molly Bloom
The timing of MOLLY'S GAME could not have been any better, seeing as this reality based crime drama has been released in a post-Harvey Weinstein Hollywood and contains a story of a fiercely savvy and indomitable career minded woman that - through self-empowerment and gritty determination - becomes a success by having huge power over powerful men...and men that once had power over her.
Yes, she forges a million dollar underground poker empire that eventually got her into
serious trouble with the law, but she nevertheless is a single-mindedly
driven and self sufficient woman in a largely male dominated profession
driven by rampant misogyny. Best
of all, MOLLY'S GAME has the brilliant Jessica Chastain - in one of her
finest performances - quarterbacking the charge alongside writer/director
Aaron Sorkin (making his directorial debut), and it's a cinematic marriage
made in proverbial heaven.
particular feels like a pitch perfect match for this type of material.
Of course, he has penned some of the best movie scripts of our
current generation in MONEYBALL, THE
SOCIAL NETWORK (for which he received the Oscar) and the terribly
underrated STEVE JOBS, not to mention
that his tour de force work on the small screen for THE WEST WING and THE
NEWSROOM helped cement his stature. And
his dialogue - with its rapid fire delivery, acerbic wit, scathing verbal
zingers, and never look back tenacity - helps make characters that would
otherwise be cookie cutter props feel positively poetic.
As a director, Sorkin handles the dense material and themes of
MOLLY'S GAME with the poise of an industry veteran that's been behind the
camera for a lifetime, and you can really sense the joy he has in bringing
the remarkable story of Molly Bloom to life, whom at 26-years-old ran an
incredibly lucrative high stakes poker game that attracted wealthy
businessmen, sports figures, and A-list movie actors (such as Leonardo
DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, and Tobey Maguire).
And Sorkin's direction, rather miraculously so, manages to match
his dialogue's dynamic pacing; at well over two hours, MOLLY'S GAME rushes
by like a fever dream and never overstays its welcome.
herself is such a richly fascinating and multifaceted character, and we're
introduced to her in an absolutely sensational opening sequence that
simultaneously establishes her as a persona with a ferocious focus and
Sorkin as a master of cross cutting and high energy verbiage.
In it we meet Molly as a potential Olympic hopeful skier that, due
to a horrendous bit of bad luck - and an ill placed tree branch - suffered
a career ending injury that all but destroyed her athletic career and
strained her relationship with her psychiatrist father (Kevin Costner),
who spent a lifetime training her. Through
these flashbacks and accompanying voiceover track (which for once feels
crucial and not lazily forced in), we learn that Molly decided to abandon
law school and sports and instead does a little soul searching, moving to
L.A. and taking an odd job as a lowly secretary.
It is through this job though, that she becomes intimately
introduced into the world of high stakes poker games that caters to the
aforementioned movie moguls and celebrities of all creeds.
clicks for her; she realizes that - with persistent effort and some by-the-seat-of-your-pants decision making - she could start
her own poker game and lure in big game clients, one of them being a
Hollywood star "Player X" (a chillingly effective Michael Cera,
who is rumored to playing Tobey Maguire here), that initially helps her in ensnaring more players with fat
wallets. After some
devastating setbacks, Molly is forced to relocate to New York, where she
does manage to find massive success, but only while attracting the
attention of the Russian and American mob, which in turn catches the eyes
of the FBI. She was
eventually arrested and charged two years after running her last game and
while the book about her life - which this film is based on - was being
released to the public.
Once MOLLY'S GAME
gets off and running it has a nearly unstoppable forward momentum as
Sorkin confidently traverses through the various stages of Molly's life
that saw her deal with athletic tragedy, then spiritual rebirth, and then
on a path for change that led to her securing herself as an underground
legend in her field. Even
though she ended up dealing with some rather unprincipled people that led
to her demise, she steadfastedly stood by her principles, even when her
lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) begs her to take a plea bargain that
could jeopardize the lives of many of her past clients.
The most endlessly compelling dynamic in MOLLY'S GAME is between
Molly and Charlie, seeing as he's initially reluctant - and rightfully so
- to take on such a potentially risky client whose money is tied up in
seized cash from questionable sources, but he has a change of heart when
he sees her as a victim of circumstance and a person that clearly got in
over her head. The chemistry
between Elba and Chastain is undeniably potent and Sorkin is wise enough
to not allow for it to traverse down any artificially scripted romantic
detours. Molly is never
developed in terms of her relationship with a man, but rather by how she
achieves success on her own terms segregated from men.
She needs Charlie for professional reasons to get her out of a
legal shit storm.
given one remarkably potent performance after another in her career, but here she
becomes almost hypnotic to watch as she comes alive in harnessing Sorkin's
rat-ta-tat dialogue and in the manner that she imbues in her character a
fiery resolve and intensely focused conviction.
Occupying nearly every scene in the film, she brings Molly
exhilaratingly to life as one of the silver screen's best realized female
characters in quite some time. She's
flawlessly matched, as mentioned, with Elba, a routinely fine actor that
has regrettably been in some mediocre to bad movies as of late (such as THE
MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US and THE DARK
TOWER), but here he does a stalwart job of playing the trickiest
role in MOLLY'S GAME as a deeply pragmatic legal eagle that is honor bound
to his client despite knowing that she has dealt with some very dishonorable
people. He has a deliciously
potent speech in the film's closing act defending Molly's honor to the
feds that reinforces why Elba is arguably one of the best actors around
that hasn't had his talents properly and consistently harnessed.
MOLLY'S GAME is
also well stacked with solid supporting players, such as Cera, who comes
the closest to playing a villain for the first time in his career as the
conniving celeb poker shark that loves eviscerating his prey at the table.
I also liked Brian d'Arcy as a hedge fund manager that's shockingly
rich and shockingly lacking in poker skills.
Costner brings an understated gravitas and low key menace to his
overbearing father. Performances
aside, MOLLY'S GAME is also a rock solid poker movie, and Sorkin doesn't
shy away from that aspect, seeing as he finds a unique and visually
appealing manner of showcasing how the game is ultimately a cerebral
multiple scenes of players call, bluff, and sweat their way through
victories and losses, I was reminded that poker - by Molly's logical
estimation - is not a game of chance that players win and lose at...it's a
game of skill. MOLLY'S GAME
does a brutally efficient job of relaying how the game can turn winners
into unstoppable juggernauts and losers into soul crushed victims of their
own obsessive need to win again when common sense should tell them to
MOLLY'S GAME is an unqualified triumph for Sorkin, who can now confidently add accomplished director to his resume alongside being a supremely gifted writer. His characteristic brand of snappy dialogue that his actors hungrily and enthusiastically harness helps give MOLLY'S GAME a propulsive energy (this is one of the joyously rare films that doesn't rely on action to propel scenes forward and create nail biting tension, but rather via words spoken). More crucially, Sorkin's film feels like a meta-commentary/response to our current era of how embattled women struggle to make a life and ends meet in a male ego-driven movie industry. What makes Molly so unwaveringly strong as a character and figure of interest is that she plays by her own rules and on her own time, and all while building a business venture - albeit with criminal caveats - that was the product of her own doing apart from male influence. At one point Molly lashes back at the scrutinizing questions of her attorney "If you think a princess can do what I did, you’re incorrect!"
No arguments here.