Directed by Aaron Sorkin
Starring Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner
As the creator of The West Wing, and the writer of A Few Good Men and The Social Network, it’s little surprise that Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut is met with some interest. Based on the memoir Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elites to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker (there’s a succinct title) the film does… well, exactly what the book states on the cover.
After an accident on the ski-slope puts an end to a promising Winter Olympic career, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) finds herself searching for a new direction in life. What she discovers is a doorway into a quasi-legal world of back room high stakes Poker. A world where celebrities, hedge fund managers, and mobsters rub shoulders to chase an elusive high. A world where Molly soon finds herself running lucrative high stakes games, and just as quickly finds herself in the sights of the FBI, and in need of a high priced lawyer (Idris Elba).
Molly’s Game is a wordy script, with a lot of moving parts, creating a tight and intricate character study. At this stage of the game, it’s exactly what you would expect from an Aaron Sorkin script – pithy, intelligent, verbose, and with the main characters channeling Sorkin’s distinctive voice. So for his directorial debut, it’s hardly a surprise to have a work heavily reliant on that first person voice-over narrative to convey the flavour of the film, and if you are a fan of Sorkin’s particular take on that, then Molly’s Game delivers. Just for the record, I certainly am a fan, although this probably isn’t as The Social Network as it flags in a couple of sections. Still, that rapid fire Billy Wilder like cadence gives Molly’s Game an energy and a momentum, while allowing it to cover a reasonably dense narrative.
The film covers three periods of Molly’s life, rapidly inter-cutting between them to create the tale. The main two periods covered are her arrest and trial, and the quasi-legal poker games that she ran that lead up to her eventual arrest, but both of these are informed by flashbacks to her childhood, and her fractious relationship with her father (Kevin Costner). Molly’s game manages to move effortlessly between these three aspects, building on each to allow an emotional pay off.
Integral to this is Jessica Chastain’s (Zero Dark Thirty, Interstellar) ability to make you believe that the writer’s voice is truly her own. Her Molly has a finely honed wit, combined with a sharp intellect, balanced between the personal and the professional at all times. Quietly competitive, to the point of often combative, she is still a character that is capable of compassion and caring. Elba, after a disastrous run in The Dark Tower and The Mountain Between Us is back on form in a significant role, matching Chastain quip for quip. Costner again plays the fatherly figure, but with more light and shade than in Man of Steel (along with some better advice).
Intricate, tightly scripted, well delivered and fascinating subject matter, Molly’s Game might not be “the nuts”, but it certainly holds a strong hand.