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Dan's Review: Aaron Sorkin takes a gamble on "Molly's Game"

Dec 25, 2017 01:46AM ● Published by Dan Metcalf

Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in Molly's Game - © 2017 STX Entertainment.

Molly’s Game (STX Entertainment)

Rated R for language, drug content and some violence.

Starring Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Brian d'Arcy James, Chris O'Dowd, Michael Cera, J. C. MacKenzie, Bill Camp, Graham Greene, Jeremy Strong, Matthew D. Matteo, Joe Keery, Natalie Krill, Claire Rankin, Madison McKinley, Khalid Klein, Victor Serfaty, Jon Bass, Samantha Isler, Piper Howell.

Written by Aaron Sorkin, based on the book by Molly Bloom.

Directed by Aaron Sorkin.

GRADE: B+

REVIEW:

Aaron Sorkin is a man of grandeur. An extremely gifted writer, whatever verses he creates tend to suck all the air out of the room, as if his words are so important, so pithy, and so clever that no one else dare offer retort of any kind, for fear of humiliation. His characters (often based on real people, like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs) usually rattle off long monologues that “burn” someone or something. All of his words come at the expense of someone haughty, wealthy or revered in some way. Those monologues also contain statements of superiority for the main characters; Jobs and his loftier vision for Apple, Zuckerberg and his takedown of those opportunistic Winklevoss twins, the fictional Col. Jessup (A Few Good Men) exclaiming with fervor “You can’t handle the truth!” Sorkin seems to write lines for characters that like the sound of their own voice, smug folks who feel the need to own every conversation and have no use for listening. At first glance, Molly Bloom (the very real person featured in Molly’s Game, written and directed by Sorkin) falls perfectly into Sorkin’s mold of hubris-laden alpha dogs, yet underneath, there’s a vulnerability to Bloom that we haven’t seen in other Sorkin muses.

Jessica Chastain portrays Bloom, a downhill mogul skier whose dream was shattered when she crashed during the Olympic trials that would have been her gateway to the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games. Down on her luck and estranged from her excellence-driven dad (Kevin Costner), Bloom heads to L.A., where she rises from being a cocktail waitress to running a high-stakes poker game attracting some very rich and famous folks. Sorkin deliberately kept the actual celebrities out of his film - perhaps to avoid distraction, but more likely out of necessity, since none of them acknowledge playing in Molly’s game. The real celebrities include Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, but Sorkin’s version of “celebrity” participation are combined into one “Player X” (Michael Cera), a fictional Hollywood actor. Molly takes tips as payment from players, but does not “rake” any of the winnings to avoid any legal issues. With stakes in the millions, her tips make her wealthy, and she takes the game to New York, where the opportunity for attracting high-stakes players is even higher.  The NYC game takes off as well, but it also attracts a few seedy characters, like foreign moguls and mafia types. Molly also starts using drugs to keep up the wild pace of her operation. Things get nasty when her game draws the attention of the FBI and the mob. Desperate to save herself, but not at the expense of revealing the identity of her players, Molly hires defense attorney Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) to keep her out of jail. Her indictment and guilty plea causes quite the stir, and the press labels her the “Poker Princess.” During her sentencing, Molly’s dad shows up, offering the possibility of redemption and reconciliation.

Molly’s Game checks all the boxes for a Sorkin-penned film. The monologues, the hubris, the pithy language are all there, but Molly’s Game is a little outside the Sorkin mold. This time, the clever protagonist is shaken, knocked off her pedestal, and dare I say, humbled. Sorkin (making is directorial debut) also resisted the urge to write scenes that feature rapid-fire dialogue as the main characters walk down a hallway. For once, the characters are more grounded, both physically and figuratively.

Jessica Chastain’s portrayal of Bloom is spot on, although perhaps at the expense of being almost identical to her performance in last year’s abysmal Miss Sloane. It’s no sin to cast in type, since Chastain is a tough character in her own right. The actor stealing the show is Idris Elba, whose character provides a moral insight and support.

As for Sorkin, Molly’s Game is a good start for a debut as director. His talent for words is still there, (as if he’d ever let us forget) and even though there are a few flaws in Molly’s Game, it’s a good bet this won’t be the last time we see Sorkin in the director’s chair.       


Molly's Game Trailer

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