Film Review: Molly's Game
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From The Social Network and Steve Jobs screenwriter Aaron Sorkin comes his directorial debut, Molly’s Game. Starring the incomparable Jessica Chastain in the title role, this film tells the true story of “Poker Princess” Molly Bloom, who became the biggest game runner in the world before her arrest by the FBI.
As one would expect from Sorkin, the film is dialogue-saturated, and the characters are smart and driven. Chastain’s Molly builds her impressive empire from scratch, but remains refreshingly and sympathetically fallible. Other characters consistently try to simplify her complex motivations, but Sorkin and the narrative never do.
The story is fed to us in two parts — the court case that occurs after Molly is arrested by the FBI for mob connections is one part of the film, which gives rise to Molly telling the story of her own rise to power to her attorney, played by the ever reliable Idris Elba.
The relationship between Elba and Chastain’s characters grows from skepticism to a genuine usual respect and friendship which acts as the grounding element in what is otherwise a glamorous whirlwind of a film. The transitions between the segments of the story are handled masterfully, and Chastain brilliantly plays Molly through the different stages of her life without missing a beat.
The classic Sorkin voiceover gets a lot of use throughout this film, but though it may seem like a stale trope, the power of it in this context is unparalleled. Molly’s grasp for agency in her own life comes full circle to the point where she is completely in control of telling her story to us, and the voiceover reflects that.
The only slightly weaker note in the film comes from Molly’s psychologist father, played by Kevin Costner, whose blatant psychoanalysis comes a little to close to spoon-feeding the audience the messages we should be able to glean on our own. Despite this, Chastain remains formidable in every second of the movie, swinging from blazing conviction to utter despair without breaking a sweat.
Elba offers a great deal in his supporting role, acting as the audience surrogate and pitching every interaction with Molly at the perfect degree of intensity. The scenes where the two of them disagree are electric, with both playing complete belief in their own ideals.
In a film populated with the Hollywood and Wall Street elite, though they remain nameless, the host of colourful secondary characters know their place in the narrative. There’s never a moment where what we’re seeing is gratuitous, or doesn’t directly impact Molly and her journey. Michael Cera, Chris O’Dowd, and Brian d’Arcy are particularly memorable for their performances, providing the perfect springboard for Chastain.
The latter portion of the film loses its momentum slightly as the court case comes to a head, and the conclusion is, in hindsight, far too tonally soft to match the rest of the film. When caught up in the moment, however, it feels triumphant.
The film is a wonderful homage to an incredibly compelling figure. Despite her fantastically opulent wardrobe, Molly is never objectified by the camera or the writing, always the active agent in the events of the film. It’s a shame that such a well-rounded, human woman is a rarity to see on screen, but hopefully the inevitable success of this film will drive more writers to create and explore such characters.
Molly's Game is out now, distributed through Entertainment One.