Molly’s Game (2017)

After somewhere around two and a half decades as a screenwriter for TV and film, Aaron Sorkin has decided to make his directorial debut in 2017 with Molly’s Game, based on the memoir written by Molly Bloom. He also wrote the screenplay, as one would hope and expect. The film stars Jessica Chastain as Bloom, a former competitive skier who wound up running poker games for the Hollywood (and New York) elite over the course of about a decade, eventually winding up in the middle of an FBI investigation because some of her clients were part of the Russian mob.

The story jumps back and forth between the “present,” during which time Bloom is arrested and has to go through the legal proceedings that follow—alongside a reluctant lawyer (Idris Elba)—and the past, which details all the time in her life leading up to that point. We see: some of her childhood, where her father (Kevin Costner) pushed her to be the best she could; her skiing career, cut short by injuries; a move to LA, which wasn’t initially very glamorous; and her running of the poker games, eventually to the point of being one of the most exclusive and high stakes of all the poker rooms in any given city.

Molly has a strong constitution and incorruptible (in some aspects) morals, which makes the potential court case interesting. She doesn’t want to give out the names of her clients—and won’t do so willingly—and therefore won’t strike a plea deal. She also doesn’t think she did anything wrong, and especially nothing wrong enough to warrant jail time. She didn’t know her clients were part of the mob; they were just poker players.

So, we get to see this twisty story unwind. Not twisty in the sense that there are a lot of shocking “you didn’t see that coming” moments, but twisty like a roller coaster, as it takes a lot of different turns and sometimes does so at a relatively high speed. I don’t know how much of it is true, but if most of it is, that’s one heck of a story to tell. I understand why it was made into a film. I’m glad it was.

Molly’s Game is a solid directorial debut for Aaron Sorkin.

Given that this is an Aaron Sorkin film, one should expect the dialogue to be solid—as a minimum standard. His dialogue, which is smart, rapid-fire, witty, and insightful. It is here, although the vast majority of the good lines go to Chastain. Elba gets some, and there are a couple from the poker players, but Chastain is the star, front-and-center, and completely owns the character.

If you liked Chastain in last year’s Miss Sloane, you’re going to enjoy what she does here, too. They’re similar characters—the smartest one in the room, determined to be a success regardless of the obstacles, quick on their feet, and able to lay a verbal beat-down if the situation requires it. Idris Elba holds his own as her lawyer, Kevin Costner is solid as her demanding dad, and a couple of the poker players are played by Michael Cera and Chris O’Dowd, so that’s pretty fun, too. Chastain is the one we’ll all take notice of, though, as is the case with most of her work. She’s so good in most productions that it’s hard to pay much attention to anyone else.

Molly’s Game is a solid directorial debut for Aaron Sorkin. It has an interesting plot that’s told well. It has strong dialogue, engaging characters, just enough comedy, and a great performance from Jessica Chastain. It’s a bit long and might not be as well-rounded as some other Sorkin efforts—it’s singularly focused on Molly; its supporting cast members are intriguing but the film doesn’t do much with them—but it’s quite a bit of fun and certainly a story worth telling.

Conclusion: Molly’s Game is smart and gripping—a very good directorial debut for Aaron Sorkin.

Recommendation: If you like engaging stories with an interesting protagonist, check out Molly’s Game.

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