'Molly's Game' Review
With 'Molly's Game,' Aaron Sorkin makes a welcome move to the director's chair.
Release Date: December 25, 2017
MPAA Rating: R
The true story of Molly Bloom, a beautiful, young, Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game for a decade before being arrested in the middle of the night by 17 FBI agents wielding automatic weapons. Her players included Hollywood royalty, sports stars, business titans and finally, unbeknown to her, the Russian mob. Her only ally was her criminal defense lawyer Charlie Jaffey, who learned there was much more to Molly than the tabloids led people to believe.
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Screenwriter(s): Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Jessica Chastain (Molly Bloom), Idris Elba (Charlie Jaffey), Kevin Costner (Larry Bloom), Michael Cera (Player X), Chris O’Dowd (Douglas Downey), Jeremy Strong (Dean Keith)
Editor(s): Alan Baumgarten, Elliot Graham, Josh Schaeffer
Cinematographer: Charlotte Bruus Christensen
Music Score: Daniel Pemberton
Molly Bloom could have won a medal at the Olympics in skiing. That didn’t happen because of a freak accident. The best way to get over it and move on is to of course head out West to Hollywood. That’s what Bloom did, working as an assistant to real estate entrepreneur Darin Feinstein. He just happened to co-own The Viper Room, where, each week a high stakes poker game would take place. Bloom had to help with the game, welcoming billionaires, Wall Street titans, politicians, and of course, the Hollywood elite. She also had to monitor how much money they won, and lost. And she was raking in thousands in tips. Things went sour with Feinstein and Bloom made a decision that many probably couldn’t muster: she took over the game, and made it bigger and better. It was also legal, until it wasn’t. Fast forward and the mob is at the door, drugs are like candy, and then the FBI comes knocking. Bloom’s success in the underground poker world landed her in deep trouble, of which she chronicled in a book, aptly titled “Molly’s Game.” And Aaron Sorkin decided to adapt and direct it for the screen, enlisting Jessica Chastain to play Molly, Idris Elba her attorney Charlie Jaffey, and the Big Fish at the table, Player X, is Michael Cena.
Player X? Yea, it’s never revealed in Molly’s Game who the A-list actor that caused Bloom a great deal of success and grief was during her stint as a poker-planning maven. Rumor has it, the now former A-list actor Tobey Maguire was Player X. In the book, Bloom speaks a great deal about Maguire, and much of what she says lines up with Player X in the film. But it is never revealed, and Sorkin has said the character is a combination of several celebrities Bloom dealt with. Whomever he or the group were, you would not want to be around them, that’s for sure.
That mystery aside, Molly’s Game goes beat-for-beat through Bloom’s life running the poker games and fighting to stay out of jail when she’s accused of being associated with the mob. It’s a fractured narrative, moving back and forth in time to reveal important moments in Bloom’s life. Much of the present day scenes involve Jaffey, and the chemistry between Elba and Chastain sets the screen ablaze. It’s fantastic to watch. And as Player X, Cena does a remarkable job at being slimy and shady. When he smiles, your skin crawls. Chastain does steal the show as Bloom, with her commanding performance of a woman who is emotionally complex. There’s determination in Bloom but also a desire to prove herself; Chastain manages to display that phenomenally well.
And then there’s the big shock of the film: Bloom had integrity and would not rat out anyone to save her own skin. It’s commendable, and Sorkin weaves this part of the story into the film with a controlled refinement. You’re not forced to respect Bloom; it naturally occurs. Viewers may watch Molly’s Game hoping for a scandal-filled romp, and they will get some of that, plus poker. Bloom’s life at the time was colorful and full of juiciness. What actually keeps you glued to the film is Bloom herself, as portrayed by Chastain. You will question her choices and have to reconcile in yourself what you would do. In the end, you realize watching Molly’s Game ticked all the boxes for good entertainment, and you’d be willing to sit through it again.
If you’re familiar with Aaron Sorkin’s body of work (The Social Network, Moneyball, The West Wing, the magnificent The Newsroom), you know he doesn’t need anyone to defend his talent as a writer. You don’t even have to watch the films or TV programs, you can just listen to the dialogue and know Sorkin’s gifted. Can he direct? That was the big question when Sorkin decided to not only adapt for the screen Molly Bloom’s book but also direct the film. Was he successful? Only as much as Sorkin could be, which translates to immensely. Molly’s Game isn’t flashy or full of tricks that directors employ to change things up and add style to a picture (with positive and very often negative results). Sorkin directs like he writes, with purpose and clear thought. The actors know what to do and they do it extremely well without the viewer feeling that they’ve been baited or told to turn it up for dramatic effect. Sorkin has always been good at conversation, and there’s no change in that by him turning to directing with Molly’s Game. It’s a movie you want to watch because the subject is interesting; you continue watching because it flows so well. When the ending comes, you’re sad to say goodbye.