Cinematic Releases: Molly's Game (2017) - Reviewed

With his trademarked rapid fire and cutting dialogue, Aaron Sorkin has become one of the more definitive screenwriters of his generation, offering a glimpse of places we haven’t seen on screen before from a unique point of view. His stories have always had an obsession with being in the room where everything happens whether it’s the White House, a cable news channel, or the beginnings of Facebook and Apple computers, Sorkin has managed to enter the room and imprint his unique flair on to these worlds and characters. And yet, Sorkin has never made a film or a show with a film protagonist, until now. Molly’s Game, Sorkin’s directorial debut, is a film that reminds us of his strengths as a writer and reveals that he still has some new tricks up his sleeve. 

Molly’s Game is the true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a beautiful, young, Olympic-class skier. After a tragic accident cuts her Olympic run short, Molly moves to Los Angeles, working job to job until she discovers her true calling: running high stakes poker games. Molly builds her way up in the world ending up with her running the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker game for a decade before being arrested in the middle of the night by 17 FBI agents wielding automatic weapons. Her players included Hollywood royalty, sports stars, business titans and finally, unbeknown to her, the Russian mob. Her only ally is her criminal defense lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), who learns that there is much more to Molly than the tabloids and the media have led people to believe. 

Molly’s Game, similar thematically and structurally to its predecessors The Social Network and Steve Jobs, is a biopic that also serves as a character study of a strong personality. It is the third installment in what I would call the Real Life Sorkin trilogy, a trilogy that focuses on the personalities of the people behind big news stories. It doesn’t aim to tell the exact truth about a situation but rather use the truth and the characters around it to tell a story about family, the tabloids, and the struggle of a woman trying to reclaim her place in the world after a lifetime of disappointments. Sorkin doesn’t really care if we understand the in depth details of the poker games because that is not what the story is about. 

Structurally, Molly’s Game proves that Sorkin is still at the top of his game. Yes, the direction and camera placement is a little bit uninteresting at times. It is not staged as well as it could be. For all of Sorkin’s strength on paper, it doesn’t translate as well as it could of. Some of the sequences are held on a little too long or not long enough. The script at times can be a bit cliché but that isn’t a bad because 95% of this movie outside of some of it’s directing choice is incredible. It does fall into the Sorkin traps at points but then manages to find its way out of there before it gets too bad. Honestly, the dialogue and acting is so good that you will forget about it. 

The characters in this film feel real and are compelling. Molly is a complex character, cut from the same Sorkinian cloth as his takes on Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs were. Jessica Chastain does a fantastic job of embodying the complexity of this character. This is a big part to chew into, one that requires her to be empathetic and reserved while also being the smartest person in the room and she nails it. Chastain deserves all of the awards love this season as she manages to bring Molly to life in a way that is both real and fascinating. Idris Elba does a solid job as well as Molly’s Lawyer, giving him a sense of righteousness and honorability that makes him the perfect foil to the murkier elements of Molly’s character. He has a monologue in this film that is so good, you can practically see the best supporting actor award materialize into his hand. It is a film that is worth watching just to see how compelling these two are on screen together. 

Molly’s Game is a film that shows an old dog like Sorkin can learn some new tricks. It is not a perfect film, it’s a bit long at points, but it does show that Sorkin is at least trying something new within his familiar framework. I hope that leaving his comfort zone has emboldened him and that we see him try and swing for the fences more with his future work. 

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-Liam S. O'Connor