There is no question that Aaron Sorkin is a one-man writing phenomenon. He’s the name behind some of the biggest money-spinners on both television and the silver screen alike. As a director, however, he’s a complete novice; and the high stakes biopic, Molly’s Game, marks his debut behind the camera. There are all the hallmarks of a great film but, sadly, I don’t think I’ll be talking about it come the end of the year.
Molly Bloom (played incisively by Jessica Chastain) could have made her millions in just about any way she wanted. A gifted ski-er with an academic record that would put most of the population to shame, she could have changed the world with her high GPA and overall lust for learning. Why, then, did she end up owing the US Government millions for running high stakes poker games and taking an illegal cut of the pot?
Sorkin’s film explores Bloom’s rise to notoriety – from homely Colorado girl to glossy New York moll – through a series of flashbacks, interspersed with her desperate attempts to (a) avoid going to jail and (b) avoid dishing the first on her previous clients, who just so happen to include Hollywood actors; wealthy entrepreneurs and the Russian mafia.
As you would expect from a Sorkin script, the dialogue moves at a pace that the Gilmore Girls would struggle to keep up with. The writing is, of course, top rate, but I couldn’t help but feel like that left the direction a little cold. It is clearly at the mercy of the (excellent) text.
That being said, the film is peppered with sharp one-liners and cutting exchanges. There is one truly cringeworthy appropriate of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, but it might just be me who was left squirming at its unexpected cheesiness. The overly-technical poker terminology went straight over my head but I’m sure that, for some viewers, this would have been as easy to understand as the rules of Snap.
Poker is a game of skill – not chance – as Bloom, points out. And it is her own skill and pro-active attitude that allows her to build such a vast gambling empire, amassing tens of thousands of dollars every night. For her, the key is to keep her players interested with new, weaker players who are easy to take money from. Otherwise, she’ll “lose the game” (as she does, twice, during the film).
As Molly becomes the “poker princess”, her outfits and make up become more garish and sparkly – with each dress revealing a little more than before. Whilst it is hard to understand why somebody of her intelligence levels would choose to become involved in illegality, it’s not hard to see why a pile of money every night is alluring. It is really interesting to watch how she falls from running a clean, legal game to finally succumbing to taking a cut.
Idris Elba (as Molly’s lawyer, Charlie Jaffey) struggles with his American accent at times. Beyond his physical appearance, I still don’t really get what all the fuss is over. He was easily the weakest link in the film. Kevin Costner also makes an appearance as Bloom’s douchebag dad, who reforms and offers a shoulder to cry on when she least expects it.
Molly’s Game is a really solid watch; but I don’t feel like it ever truly ignites like I had hoped it would. It’s a brilliant central performance from Chastain but it’s, oddly, not enough to truly deliver the goods.