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Molly’s Game: Jessica Chastain’s poker moment in Aaron Sorkin’s understated, dialogue-heavy drama
January 6, 2018
It was only a matter of time before renowned playwright and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, winner of 5 Emmy Awards and an Oscar, was going to finally sit in the director’s chair. Molly’s Game was the perfect opportunity for the master of the infamous long walks and talks of The West Wing fame to make this natural transition. The story in fact encapsulates all the narrative and thematic elements that have turned him into probably the most revered screenwriter in today’s Hollywood.
From his Oscar winning script for The Social Network to the most recent Steve Jobs, Sorkin has been tackling the real life stories of extraordinary people, adapting from best-selling biographies. This time around, the subject under scrutiny is Molly Bloom, an Olympic-hopeful skier who had to abandon her athletic aspirations after a bad injury and winds up becoming the hostess of a high profile underground poker game for wealthy Hollywood celebrities, among others.
Played by Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, The Tree Of Life), Molly tells her story in voiceover form, weaving in and out of alternating timelines. As we see her at a young age coping with her stern father (the often-underrated Kevin Costner), we promptly get the idea that once again Mr. Sorkin couldn’t help but explore the trials and tribulations of an overachiever. Molly is raised with a constant push to avoid becoming a quitter and her daddy issues easily turn into rebellion. After the soul-crashing accident she puts the thought of going to law school on hold and moves to Los Angeles where she’s soon hired as an assistant to a sleazy Hollywood producer.
The man involves her with the underground poker game he runs without paying her any over time. However, when Molly becomes popular among the illustrious participants, getting tipped good money, her nasty boss stops paying her for the day job duties. Sick of being exploited, the resourceful woman, who has practically been running the game now, breaks away and creates her own underground game, taking with her some of the most high profile players. Although getting on well at first, Molly is bound to realize that she’s playing in a boys’ club and her former employer isn’t the only unpleasant man who is trying to take advantage of her.
Molly’s reaction to adversity is a bold move to New York where she organizes a brand-new game with a different kind of crowd. However, she ends up attracting the Russian Mafia in her circle and also falls victim to a cocaine habit – a couple of things that jeopardize her well-being. That’s where the film actually starts, with Molly at her lowest point, getting arrested by the FBI in a scary raid worthy of a first class criminal. Her more-or-less accidental involvement with the Russian mafia has made her a target and now she has to face serious charges in court. The film flashes back to tell the whole story and the non-linear structure keeps cutting back and forth to the main timeline where attorney Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) reluctantly takes Molly’s case.
The incredibly talented and stunningly beautiful Jessica Chastain plays the titular character effortlessly, gifting us once again with a memorable performance, even when Sorkin’s film cracks a bit under the pressure of its multilayered structure. That’s not to say the filmmaker loses the thread along the way. As usual he leaps across timelines impeccably, yet loses focus on some of the character moments, indulging a bit too much on elements that would’ve worked better if handled in nuanced fashion.
From David Fincher to Danny Boyle – as a screenwriter – Sorkin has been working with la crème de la crème of film directors. So it’s no surprise that overall Molly’s Game is an assured and solid directorial debut. There’s nothing particularly flashy or stylish about it as the true star is once again the dialogue-heavy script but there’s no doubt this is one of the most entertaining studio films of the year.
Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba are an acting powerhouse, sharing a brilliant chemistry and the supporting players are superb – from the measured Costner to the subtle work of Michael Cera as Player X, the most high profile Hollywood actor among the game’s participants, whose identity is purposely left anonymous. A compelling true story that encompasses Sorkin’s favorite thematic threads exploring the incredible, extraordinary lives of brilliant and emotionally damaged overachievers, Molly’s Game is an elegant piece of filmmaking that reveals a lot of heart by the time credits roll.
Molly’s Game is in UK cinemas now.
Words By Francesco Cerniglia @FrankieWriter