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Molly’s Game, the based on a true story tale of a former competitive skier who later caught the FBI’s eye for running an underground poker game, is a fantastic directorial debut for acclaimed Jewish screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. It is a consistently compelling story with a fascinating protagonist, made even more fascinating by a great performance from Jessica Chastain.
Molly Bloom (Chastain) is a competitor. Since she was little, her psychologist father, Larry (Kevin Costner), pushed her to be a great skier. After suffering a terrible injury during Olympic qualifying, Molly’s days as an athlete end. She takes a couple of part-time jobs to make ends meet, one as an assistant to real estate agent Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong). One day, Dean tasks her with helping him schedule his weekly poker game and helping out at the event. She gets tipped very generously and her new profession is born. Eventually, she starts running her own game.
The majority of Molly’s Game is told in flashback. At the start of the film, her home is raided by the FBI (due to a possible connection between her and Russian-Jewish mobsters) even though they had already seized her assets two years earlier and she had not run a game since then. The heart of the story becomes her relationship with the lawyer who reluctantly takes her on as a client, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba). The film goes back and forth between relating her past and showing her fighting for her future.
I mentioned at the start that this is the work of Aaron Sorkin (adapted from Bloom’s 2014 autobiography). Sorkin is known for his language (he won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2011 for The Social Network). His characters are usually articulate and very chatty. In Chastain, he cast the perfect actor for his lead. She comes off as strong, very smart and delivers her lines with the confidence needed for this character. If she did not present herself as though she had everything figured out, her entire business would have crumbled. It is a tremendous performance and it is impossible for me to imagine anyone else being better in the role.
Elba anchors the film as her lawyer. Jaffey is more interested in the why of Molly than the what. Through him, viewers get the opportunity to learn what makes Molly tick. Jaffey could have turned out to be nothing more than the film’s moral compass, but Sorkin allows him to be more complex than that. Elba is an excellent actor who had yet to really get the opportunity to showcase his skills on the big-screen. Not anymore. He matches Chastain with a really good supporting performance and helps viewers understand Molly’s mysteries.
They are given additional support from Kevin Costner as Molly’s father, Michael Cera as a famous Hollywood actor (referred to as Player X in the film) who frequents Molly’s poker game, Jeremy Strong as her arrogant and verbally abusive boss and Chris O’Dowd, who gets laughs as a drunk who tries to use Molly as a confidant. Not only are they all good, each of those characters get at least one big moment and the actors all take advantage of it.
Molly’s Game is an intriguing character study that doubles as a pretty good popcorn movie. It is all the more impressive for also being fast moving and occasionally pretty funny. Aaron Sorkin has done something pretty remarkable in his first directorial effort: he has made a thoughtful, insightful film about a complex, real-life story that is also really fun to watch. Molly’s Game is a great film.
4¾ out of 5
By Ben Pivoz
Ben’s Movie Reviews