DIR/WRI: Aaron Sorkin • PRO: Mark Gordon, Matt Jackson, Amy Pascal • DOP: Charlotte Bruus Christensen • ED:Alan Baumgarten, Elliot Graham, Josh Schaeffer • MUS: Daniel Pemberton • DES: David Wasco • CAST: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner
Aaron Sorkin has decided to branch out from screenwriting and become a writer/director with Molly’s Game; adapted from a memoir by Molly Bloom, a prodigal skier-turned-poker impresario, with the dependable Jessica Chastain starring as the titular Molly delivering the fast-paced dialogue one would expect from a Sorkin script.
Molly’s Game opens at the beginning of Molly Bloom’s story. She was a promising skier with a chance of inclusion in the U.S. Winter Olympics team until a freak accident derailed this possibility. Molly moves to Los Angeles and distances herself from both skiing and her overbearing father. In L.A, she works multiple jobs to get by, until she becomes a personal assistant to someone who runs discreet poker games for people from distinguished backgrounds, such as Hollywood actors. Molly decides to set up her own poker games after being fired and raises the stakes with higher buy-ins and returns. Once she moves to New York to attract more affluent clientele, Molly becomes involved with the Russian mafia and is indicted by the FBI. Sorkin uses a non-linear narrative to feature her discussions with lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) after her indictment about how she will plead at her forthcoming court case.
Jessica Chastain is the highlight of this film. She allows you to believe in the character’s struggles and hopes, and this is also aided by Sorkin’s direction. Here, he offers a sense of voyeurism, specifically in the poker games, as Molly looks at these ‘successful’ figures from her own distance and wants to emulate some of form of that success in her own life. Molly is sought after by some of the male figures for being an “anti-wife”, although the film thankfully doesn’t reward the character with sexual favours from men. Instead, she wants to be credibly rewarded and Molly has evident agency.
However, Chastain’s on-screen time is limited as she delivers too much of the script with voiceover. There are also numerous on-screen graphics explaining the happenings of some of Molly’s poker games and this unfortunately denies Chastain more screen time.
The ensemble cast is made up of reputable actors such as Idris Elba and, most notably, Michael Cera. Molly doesn’t offer the real names of her poker players in her book, but here, Cera plays Player X, an actor who may or may not have been Michael Cera. There is a humorous meta-awareness of this actor’s inclusion, especially when Player X delivers lines including “I don’t like playing poker. I like destroying lives”. The viewer cannot expect an individual like Michael Cera to say those remarks and it’s reminiscent of his enjoyable cameo meta-appearance in Twin Peaks: The Return as Wally Brennan. Michael Cera’s on-screen characters are hard to distinguish from Michael Cera himself, yet his inclusion in Molly’s Game is ultimately worthwhile.
There are some slight downfalls of the film such as the ineffective father-daughter subplot that is not properly fleshed out and Kevin Costner is wasted in a role that’s almost akin to William Fichtner’s part in Blades of Glory. The film’s climax is too generic and the denouement is far from suspenseful. Without any prior knowledge of the real Molly Bloom, the film doesn’t present a real sense of danger for the character, especially for those who are approaching this plot blind.
Molly’s Game is an Oscar biopic-by-numbers film that probably won’t go down as one of recent history’s stronger biopics. Although, Jessica Chastain saves this film from failure and it never felt boring, despite the generic climax, in Aaron Sorkin’s credible and efficient directorial debut.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Molly’s Game is released 29th December 2017