Movie Review | Molly's Game
Movie Summary: The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target. (IMDb)
This is Aaron Sorkin’s first film as a director, in addition to also writing the script, and while the dialogue and characters work as well as you’d expect from a Sorkin screenplay, the structure of the film makes for a lot of build-up and not a lot of pay-off.
That’s to say that there is no big climactic moment here – there are multiple smaller moments that all work well, but there’s never that cathartic moment when you feel everything coming together. It doesn’t particularly hurt the film, but it does stop it from being a truly great movie.
Part of that can be ‘blamed’ on the fact that Molly Bloom was an actual person and the events depicted – or at least, similar events – actually happened, preventing Sorkin from giving the film the ending it deserved. And it did deserve a better climax, because it’s a really good film otherwise.
I’ll admit my bias in really liking Jessica Chastain as an actress – she always sells you completely on the character she’s playing, no matter who that may be. That remains true here, and she is utterly convincing as Molly, a young woman who is way too smart for her own good and getting in some trouble as a result of the clandestine poker games she ran – both with the US government and the Russian mafia.
Her character goes much deeper than that though, with a family torn apart thanks to her father’s indiscretions, with whom she also had a fraught relationship. This actually supplies one of the film’s best subplots and does get the payoff it deserves in contrast to the central narrative.
Praise has to go to Kevin Costner for how well he works with Chastain here though – they’re so good together, and perfect as this divided father and daughter. The script is so smart, matching the intelligence of the characters involved, that you totally buy into their continually-evolving relationship throughout the course of Molly’s life.
The other performance worth noting is obviously Idris Elba as Molly’s lawyer, Charlie Jaffey, who is just as smart as Molly is, with Elba also matching Chastain’s level of performance. They’re another great pairing and a lot of the movie’s humour comes from their time on-screen together.
Charlie isn’t comic relief though, and he isn’t as easily manipulated by Molly as other men prove to be, meaning that there’s also some moments of tense drama between the pair and makes their relationship feel more rounded rather than a simple lawyer-client association.
The only real flaw in their relationship is that, while Charlie does engage in a bit of pop psychology to try and figure out what Molly’s game (no pun intended) is, he only goes as far as the story needs and never completely follows through in the way I was expecting him to. How’s that for nit-picking, eh?
Chastain and Elba are the two leads of this film and that’s the biggest criticism I can find in their interactions. They work so well together, and the fantastic dialogue is delivered so fluidly at a speed that will make your head spin, I simply can’t imagine how their roles could have been performed better by any other actors out there.
I do just want to go back and praise Jessica Chastain again though. There are a couple of moments in the film where credibility is strained in that ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ way, but the sense of immersion never fully breaks because Chastain flat out never allows it to – as Molly, she always adapts to what the situation requires and pulls it off splendidly.
One last bit of praise has to go to Michael Cera as Player X in what is possibly my favourite role of his now, surpassing Scott Pilgrim. It’s a performance I genuinely didn’t conceive him as being capable of, but he’s so good as the intimidatingly-intelligent unnamed celebrity poker player that I really want to see him in more roles like this now.
Molly’s Game is an intelligent, lightning-paced film that neither talks down to the audience nor waits for them to keep up, barrelling through events wonderfully brought to life by a fantastic cast delivering uniformly excellent performances. The only problem stopping it from being a truly great movie is the relatively low-key – but still enjoyable – ending, although this may be a case of reality intruding on what might have proven more dramatically satisfying.