Molly’s Game – Film Review by David Minogue
Written and Directed by Aaron Sorkin
Edited by Alan Baumgarten, Elliot Graham, Josh Schaeffer
Stars – Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Chris O’Dowd, Jeremy Strong
Aaron Sorkin’s debut as a screenwriter for cinema was in 1992 when he wrote A Few Good Men. His screenwriting credits since then have included the films The American President (1995), Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), Moneyball (2011) and most famously for television The West Wing (1999-2006). Molly’s Game is his latest film as a screenwriter and also his first as a director. It is based on the book Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker. Like many of Sorkin’s previous screenplays for cinema, Molly’s Game is based on a real life person but this is also the first film in which the protagonist is female.
While the film’s narrative centres on how Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) first became involved in underground poker and then was investigated by the FBI years later the opening sequence focuses instead on how she was initially destined to become a world class Olympic skier for the USA. In this scene Sorkin takes artistic license with recounting this episode in Molly’s story but it is also one of the most thrilling and best edited scenes in the entire film. Professional sport is depicted as a game of luck and chance and that key aspect sets in place perfectly the events that led Molly to become involved in the organisation and management of underground poker. The film’s early scenes also present the antagonistic relationship Molly has with her father Larry (Kevin Costner) a clinical psychological who was also her sports coach. There are flashbacks to Molly’s life as a child and teenager but the main part of the film concentrates on how she became an extremely successful person the in management of the male dominated world of poker playing. It chronicles how Molly first became involved in underground poker dens while working in a bar and then becoming an assistant to a man who organised games for famous people which included movie stars and business men. In time the Russian mafia also got involved. While the film is consistently dramatic it never has the complete amount of tension needed for some key scenes. There is an omnipresence awareness of Sorkin as a great writer more so than a director. None of the real life celebrities who were involved in the games are named in the film even though some were revealed in her book (Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, etc).
There is often a steely determination in the way Jessica Chastain depicts her characters on screen and in this role she is at her most committed. Chastain plays the character of Molly Bloom in this film similar to roles that Julia Roberts played in some of her dramatic films. She expresses well both the sense of addiction and isolation that power brings. She imbues a range of emotions in her portrayal of a woman who has both immense determination and a quiet bravery. There is a huge amount of voice over in this film which is narrated by her but it is testament to the quality of Sorkin’s writing that it remains interesting throughout. While Jessica Chastain is well cast in the role of Molly other actors are miscast especially Michael Cera as a celebrity known in the film only as Player X and Chris O’Dowd as Douglas Downey a man who introduces Molly to new players. Idris Elba as Molly’s attorney features prominently in some of the film’s marketing as a co-star but he is once again in a supporting role. This is a film where the trailer gives far too much of the story away as surprises and twists in the story work better without prior knowledge. As in the case of many recent true life stories the person who the film is about has featured in much of the film’s publicity and recent interviews with Molly Bloom herself can be seen on line. One of the most intriguing aspects of her life that Sorkin conveys well is that the audience is never fully sure what the exact truth of her story is. This is a film that Jessica Chastain absolutely deserves her recent acting nominations for and it is another screenwriting success for Sorkin. It will be interesting to see what his next film project as a director will be.