Aaron Sorkin’s power-poker drama excitedly kicks off another cinematic year with a January 1st release. What’s exciting however, is that one of America’s most impressive modern-day screenwriter’s (The Social Network, Steve Jobs) has branched out from the page to the director’s chair with his very accomplished directorial debut feature.
Molly’s game is poker. High stakes, celebrity clients and all the exclusivity that such things bring. After living out a career as an olympic skier from a young age, a tragedy leaves her feeling uncertain about her future and how it will provide for her. Taking up a job in a bar and as a secretary for a man who allows her to organise a prestigious weekly poker game, she spies an opportunity for private expansion; Molly Bloom running the show, personalised poker chips et al. However, the higher the stakes, the greater the exposure, and soon all types begin to surface, wishing to mingle with the money and gamble their millions at the table of the “Poker Princess”.
Sorkin had become nothing short of a sensation after fulfilling his role writing the hit television series The West Wing, and has since additionally written the acclaimed show The Newsroom. However, Sorkin’s magnificent script for David Fincher’s 2010 drama, The Social Network, proved him as one of the most talented writers of his generation, a title which he proved furthermore the year after in his script-writing duties on Bennett Miller’s Moneyball. Molly’s Game is exactly what one would expect and ask for of a Sorkin script; it’s sly, slick, and constant. A talent for back-and-forth bickering has always been a hallmark of Sorkin’s bravado, and Jessica Chastain is the perfect mouthpiece for such dialogue; although, such denunciation is selling her performance utterly short; her take on the character is magnificent.
The structure often works in its favour. The narrative tends to flit between present and past, concerning the decisions she has made that have led to her current difficulties involving the law. However, perhaps most interesting to highlight is a detail within the first act that shapes how one views Molly’s rise and fall. Early in the film, and in poor taste, a character remarks about some insufficient bagels that Molly has bought him as a part of her daily duties. Later, it is discovered that his comment on the bagels is airbrushed, edited as not to offend her lawyer (Idris Elba, in a perhaps career-best role). It is this information coming to light that establishes that the recollection the audience is witnessing may in fact be a re-imagined dramatisation in her image. It is through her we see the past that colours the present, which is enhanced through Chastain’s insightful and charismatic monologue.
Molly makes her world as exciting for us as it was for her experiencing it, and takes us through the baby steps of the game until the fully grown offspring of her high-stakes evening consumes its creator. Such encapsulating voice-over recalls the fast-talking self evaluation of Scorsese’s leading men, but gives the chance for a unique female perspective in a world dominated by men. In a universe of wealth, men see dames and dollars, and Molly’s authoritative cool and fabricated smooth-criminal front defy this, in a refreshing story that has a humane respect and understanding of its complex female protagonist.
Sorkin’s trademark humour is injected evenly throughout and rarely fails to raise a chuckle; so understandably under this circumstance, a singular dud stands out in particular, almost derailing the entire scene it taints. The poker games that take place within the film are fascinating thanks to Molly’s knowledgeable commentary and the aid of visual signifiers to illustrate the players hands and to provide context to their table-titan personalities is a stroke of great directorial wisdom.
Molly’s Game moves at such a fluent pace that when it begins to feel a tad too sentimental in its last act it feels a little out of place, but in the aftermath of certain emotionally charged conversations, they admittedly earn their place within the films framework; a film that although never outstanding, remains generous in its lashings of entertainment and sadly leaves you feeling a little underwhelmed with a departing monologue that runs limp.