Director: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, J.C. MacKenzie, Brian D’Arcy James
Written by: Aaron Sorkin and (based on the book) Molly Bloom
Running Time: 140 mins
Release date: 1st January 2018
After about 5 minutes of watching Molly’s Game, I came to the conclusion that I was going to enjoy this film a lot. Not something that happens to every film I watch but there was something special about that pre-credit sequence. It involves a voice-over, describing the worst thing that can happen to a sportsperson in their career. Doesn’t exactly sound the most awe-inspiring sequence yet the way the words merges, moved around and were delivered, along with some reasonable visuals just made me feel comfortable and once we got the payoff, I realised then that this was going to be a terrific piece of cinema. I wasn’t wrong.
Molly Bloom had the opportunity of being a great freestyle skiier but a freak accident ended that dream. Heading to LA, she found a job in a cocktail bar which led to working for a man who ran a high-stakes poker game. Molly, a woman with a high IQ and was putting her journey to law school on hold, used her wit and guile to start her own empire of poker games, only to find that once you are playing in the world of money, the law comes sniffing around, leading Molly to hire lawyer Charlie Jaffrey to protect her from being connected with the Russian Mafia.
Written and directing for the first time by Aaron Sorkin, you know immediately that this is going to be a film that relies more on words than actions. Sorkin loves long dialogue scenes as proven in other scripts and his TV series, The West Wing. He also loves characters and while these scenes of long conversations are played out, you really get to understand what really makes these people tick. Sorkin can take a simple scene of two people talking and turn it into a word of majestic art, while still making every word believable.
Based on the true story of a woman who became the Poker Princess, running games in hotels that started out being legal and being betrayed by the players who came, Sorkin is less interested in the actions that occur but more about Molly and who she became, while never diminishing on the events within her life. Molly is a smart lady who is far more intelligent than the men who play at her tables, never compromising on her ethics of allowing them to get any closer than a hello or goodbye and yet is constantly betrayed by them when she does nothing more than advise.
The film’s strong points occur in the scenes between Molly and her lawyer, Charlie Jaffrey. This is where Sorkin really comes into his own, firing witty and sharp lines of dialogue that could quite easily come from the movies of the 40’s. In a time where talk interrupts the action, it’s refreshing to go into a Sorkin film and be treated to joys for the ears. What also works are Sorkin’s way of playing with time. Instead of giving us a straightforward A to B to C story, he scrambles it up and it still manages to make sense.
If there is criticism, it’s the fact at 140 minutes it does feel slightly too long and some scenes could have been trimmed or lost altogether. It also relies on poker techno-babble, which, if you are not a fan, may lose you. Yet these are minor quibbles in a film that refreshingly allows an actress to play tough and cool without once being a smart-alec or raising a fist.
In that central role, Jessica Chastain is simply magnificent. I have always regarded Ms Chastain highly and she doesn’t let me down here. Sassy and smouldering like some Hollywood star from days gone by, she commands the screen with ease. Even her voice-over, which is a trait that sometimes can become annoying, is flowing and matches perfectly the mood of the piece. It is a first-class performance from an actress who gets better and better with every film. At last, Idris Elba gets to play a character that shows his true acting prowess. Last year he starred in a couple of disappointing films. Here he shines as Charlie. Bantering with Chastain is a joy to behold and one particular scene where Charlie verbally attacks a prosecutor out to destroy Molly is a scene worth the price of admission alone.
Molly’s Game is an impressive start to the new year and is a film that treats its audience as adults with characters you care about and a story that fascinates. Sorkin is a true wordsmith and I, for one, will cue up to listen to those words being performed by actors who understand the power they possess.