Updated: Jul 23, 2020
Director – Aaron Sorkin
Writer – Aaron Sorkin
Cast – Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, Bill Camp
Plot – Based on the memoir by Molly Bloom, a world-class skier with Olympic aspirations who is severely injured during a 2002 Winter Olympics heat which ended her career. After drifting and deciding to postpone finishing her law degree she moves to Los Angeles to work as a bottle-serving waitress in a club, where she is coerced into working for her boss in a side role running underground poker games which are attended by many famous film stars, politicians, musicians and sportsmen. She becomes deeper ingrained in this underground high-stakes life until the attentions of the Russian mob and the FBI bring violence, drug addiction and a highly publicised court case.
Molly Bloom’s story is quite remarkable, and if it weren’t for the fact that it is based on true events then this film release could have arguably been labelled too farcical for a Hollywood plot. Indeed, it captured the imagination of acclaimed writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, A Few Good Men, and The Social Network) that he not only wrote the screenplay but also directed for the first time in his film career.
Those familiar with Sorkin’s previous work as a screenwriter will be greeted instantly with his trademark rapid-fire dialogue, intellectual pondering and extended monologues as Molly’s Game seeps with his flair for humorous well-written prose, with only the West Wing-style ‘walk and talk’ failing to appear in some form.
But it is interesting to see him in the director chair, his vision now even more his own responsibility (notorious for demanding performers stick to his script alone and also for being less generous with fellow writer credits). But there can be no doubt on this occasion that Molly’s Game is very much an Aaron Sorkin film.
Ingratiating her way into ‘Sorkinese’ effortlessly is Jessica Chastain; as Molly she is perfectly cast as the potential Olympian with a (poker) chip on her shoulder, balancing the vulnerabilities required of a woman who has to suffer constant bellowing insults, impossible demands and sexist remarks from her employer, failing real-estate agent Dean (Jeremy Strong), as well as demonstrate the intellectual mind of a business entrepreneur when Molly is confident enough to run her own poker games.
We are told Molly’s story through Chastain’s narration, although with a slight over-reliance on stylish montages featuring card-players sleazing it up in smoky hotel rooms, characters counting thick wads of money and edited to the point it feels like Sorkin spent considerable time repeatedly watching Scorcese’s Casino before he called ‘action’. Although, the sequence focussing on the downfall of one of the steady regular players as his fortunes plummet to the point he becomes a quivering husk of a man in severe debt, shows great insight into the realities of the gambling addict and is a sobering reminder of how quickly these players could lose everything.
The story flip-flops between Molly retelling her story in the years during the poker business and then to a few years later as she is preparing to face trial for illegal gambling activity and potential dealings with the Russian mob. It’s in these scenes that Chastain verbally battles with the lawyer she is trying to convince to take her case (Elba’s Charlie Jaffey). Initially reluctant, he arguably steals the show with a hair-raising, spit-firing speech to the enquiry board members as the futility of Molly’s case seems too evident.
Rounding out a solid cast is Michael Cera as the mysterious Player X (it seems a composite of Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Afleck and Tobey Maguire and other celebrity poker players) and Kevin Costner, who plays Molly’s father Larry Bloom. The latter’s relationship is strained as Molly seems to rebel against his domineering ways and Costner brings believability to his stern lecturing clinical psychologist.
Ultimately, Sorkin’s directorial debut is a commendable first outing, well written and with some interesting stylistic flourishes with great performances from its leads Chastain and Elba, and although this type of biographical crime drama has been tackled plenty in the past, Molly’s story is still an exciting, darkly funny tale of the all-consuming power of greed and ego in an underworld largely dominated by the male persuasion.