Whether or not you consider his dialogue to be overwrought, Aaron Sorkin’s emphasis on speech in a fundamentally visual medium is inarguably deserving of admiration. Striking the balance decisively more frequent than not, his narratives finesse the marriage of exposition and discourse effectively and memorably. While Molly’s Game doesn’t deviate from what Sorkin’s established as the baseline with Academy Award-caliber screenplays like The Social Network and Moneyball, his latest effort finds the scribe operating short of peak power.
Like most wordsmiths, Aaron’s worship of the written word includes a healthy consumption of literature. His fifth consecutive adaptation, Molly’s Game assuredly demonstrates the screenwriter’s unmistakable style and signifies that even the most accomplished ink-slinger continuously has a need to sharpen his craft.
The true story of the tabloid-dubbed, or self-proclaimed “Poker Princess” Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), dependant on who you ask, Molly’s Game sits the viewer at the dealer button alongside Hollywood’s elite, billionaires, athletes and politicians in one of the world’s most exclusive and expensive underground poker games. The film doesn’t name names, but you’ll find that some light research will provide the dirt you’re looking for.
Molly Bloom, not to be confused with the “Ulysses” heroine, began organizing high-stakes poker games in Hollywood, then New York when her aspirations of becoming an Olympic skier were stymied and swindling the moderately rich into paying for the costly booze wasn’t enough of a power trip.
At the table, as the player list expanded and the figures rose, so did the demand and risk. Mobsters, bad losers, and drug addiction triggered the collapse of Bloom’s gambling circle and Molly’s skill downshifted to luck. Shutdown by the feds, broke, and her fair-weather regulars evaporated, Molly and her “not even a little bit shady” defense attorney (Idris Elba) prep a case to vindicate her sullied name.
Sorkin’s directorial debut is a whirlwind exercise in psychoanalysis from the get-go, although the subject might be undeserving of the visual analysis. Daddy issues and misfortune aside, it’s difficult to feel anything, save apathy for Molly Bloom in the end. Sorkin himself even justifies this rationale concisely in a heart-to-heart between Molly and her father (Kevin Costner).
Cards on the table, Molly’s Game suffers from pacing fluctuations and convenience, true story or not. The newfound responsibilities of directing might’ve contributed to Sorkin’s adaptation wobbling across the finish line, a foreseeable stumble indicated by a few missteps during the film’s borderline excessive runtime. Still, the unsteadiness is by and large a controlled burn which Molly’s Game compensates for with rapid, piercing dialogue, breakneck narrative progression, and fascinating content.
Breathing accessibility into a character that otherwise lacks basic human needs like personal relationships and sleep, Chastain’s most noteworthy accomplishment as Bloom is her physical and mental crumbling under the motivelessness that consumes her thoughts each second she’s alone. At the mercy of her subconscious, Bloom’s reconciliation with her father is the film’s emotional highpoint, with a majority of the praise going to Chastain and Costner’s noticeable rapport. The clarity and pointlessness in which it brings notwithstanding.
Chastain clearly revels in bringing the stories of resolute women to the big screen, evident in previous roles like Miss Sloane and Zero Dark Thirty. Apart from the skimpy outfits, gratuitous body framing, and thick layers of maquillage, Molly Bloom’s intelligence and imperfectness shine through thanks to a ferocious turn from the actress.
Her male counterparts, consisting of an outstanding supporting core that includes Michael Cera and Chris O’Dowd, fill out the story’s empty spaces with irrelevant confessions of love and potent comic buffoonery. Idris Elba, who claims the film’s most uproarious sequence when he switches seats with a bodyguard several times, is largely understated with the monumental exception of delivering a surefooted Sorkin monologue that could be the movie’s masterstroke.
Unfortunately, Molly’s Game might not be the film it so desperately wants to be all the way through. The reasoning behind this highly watchable tale is a turnoff that nearly undoes every positive that came before it, while the final act comes off as uninspired and there really is no life lesson to be learned here. That said, Molly’s Game features a show-stopping performance from Jessica Chastain, and what the film doesn’t get right isn’t noticed until long after it’s over as a result of its breathtaking pace which feels like you’ve been given a shot of epinephrine. That, and I’ll watch anything with Bill Camp in it.
Aaron Sorkin’s indelible wit and naturally fervent performances from Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba prevent Molly’s Game from drawing dead.