UK Release Date: 1st January 2018
Runtime: 140 minutes
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Chris O’Dowd, Jeremy Strong, Bill Camp
Synopsis: A former top athlete falls into the world of high-stakes underground poker, only to find herself at the centre of a massive investigation into the Russian mob.
Aaron Sorkin writes some of the best scripts in cinema today. His take on the creation of Facebook in The Social Network helped that film to become one of the best ever made and his recent Steve Jobs is an elegantly structured, quasi-theatrical dramatisation of another compelling figure from modern history. He has since made the transition to the director’s chair, helming his own script for Molly’s Game, which delves into the world of A-list underground poker games with a sharp, spiky movie that provides a terrific showcase for star Jessica Chastain.
Chastain is Molly Bloom, who falls into a role running a high-stakes poker game through boss Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong) while working at his real estate firm. She quickly learns the game is packed with celebrities, including Player X (Michael Cera), who tip generously. Molly takes control of the game and ultimately moves it across to New York City, where she attracts wealthy financiers, but also players with connections to organised crime. She is soon subject to a criminal investigation and hires moralistic lawyer Charlie (Idris Elba) to represent her.
The baffling thing about Molly’s Game is that Sorkin decided to direct it at all, given where his strength so obviously lies. The script is vintage Sorkin, bristling with fast-paced, spiky exchanges and rapid fire exposition. It’s not a film that soft pedals for anyone who lacks knowledge of the poker world, firing in jargon at such a ludicrous pace that, by the time you’ve worked out what a ‘rake’ is, you’ve already missed out on ‘flop’, ‘river’ and ‘the nuts’. In true Sorkin style, everything flies by too quickly for you to keep up, despite an over-inflated and indulgent running time, and it’s only because the characters are so strong that everything holds together in such impressive fashion.
Away from the script, though, it’s all rather pedestrian. Sorkin doesn’t so much direct as simply point the camera at the actors while they speak. The dialogue is impressive enough that the film still works, but Molly’s Game is desperate for the visual invention that someone like David Fincher, Rob Reiner or Danny Boyle could have brought to the party. Sorkin would seemingly be better off sticking to the pen, which is considerably mightier than the camera in this case.
Jessica Chastain is wonderful in the lead role, which feels like a culmination of her run of driven, focused women who choose success over their social lives, following Miss Sloane and Zero Dark Thirty. She clearly relishes wrapping her tongue around the rich Sorkin dialogue and is capable of playing the deadpan comedy as well as the outpourings of emotion. Her scenes alongside Idris Elba are a rat-a-tat-tat of linguistic delight, with the British actor more than holding his own in a role that is his most dialogue-heavy in years.
The uniformly strong ensemble cast does have a number of weak spots. Michael Cera is hopelessly miscast as Player X – a composite character made up of several real Hollywood movie stars, including Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio. Cera does a decent job with the material, but he’s simply not believable as a slimy, wily A-lister who uses his starstruck opponents as cash cows. Similarly, Kevin Costner is saddled with the worst parts of Sorkin, leading up to a gratingly awful final discussion with Chastain that should win the Oscar for Most Egregious Mansplaining of The Year.
But these weak spots are minor in comparison to the towering enjoyment of what Sorkin has pulled off with Molly’s Game. His sharp script, which tells a compellingly lurid true story of what happens behind the closed doors of American celebrity, is the perfect vessel for Jessica Chastain’s best performance in years, and her character has far more complexity than her icy surface might initially suggest. Sorkin wins the entire pot here, but that’s mostly because he’s holding the best hand.
Pop or Poop?
Molly’s Game is a gripping, glittering tale of celebrity indulgence that wields salacious true details and complex dialogue battles with equal joy, helped by the terrific tandem of Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba.
There are a few typical Sorkin bum notes littered throughout and the direction is a little straightforward, but there’s enough wit and momentum here to carry the film through to its climax.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.