Molly’s Game is a snappy, dynamic showcase for Jessica Chastain and a timely film that champions women seizing control of their destiny.
Based on a true story, the film explores the life of Molly Bloom (Chastain, The Martian), whose exploits certainly warrant a feature film. Bloom recalls how she was on track to qualify for the Winter Olympics in skiing when she wiped out and had to quickly come up with a Plan B. It wasn’t easy as her demanding father (Kevin Costner, Hidden Figures) expected perfection from Molly and her high achieving siblings.
Lacking better options, Molly works as the secretary for a standard jerky Hollywood boss (Jeremy Strong). Grabbing bagels isn’t as exciting as the other aspect of Molly’s gig — helping to run her boss’ poker games. Molly is a quick study and learns the ins and outs like how to bring in loaded players who are terrible at the game and taking a business-first and only approach with celebrities like Michael Cera playing an obnoxious regular.
Molly becomes a little too good at the gig and promptly gets fired. The film strikes its first inspirational note as Molly decides she’s more than capable of running her own poker game and nabs all her boss’ high profile players and sets up a profitable empire of her own. This should play really well with award season as an ideal meta commentary on women fed up with taking crap from dudes abusing power.
With that success comes complications — namely the FBI arresting and shutting her game down due to less than savory players participating. To clear her name and recover her hard-earned fortune, Molly turns to attorney Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba, 100 Streets).
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Aaron Sorkin directed and wrote the film (based on Bloom’s book). It doesn’t take long to catch the signature Sorkin style, but Molly’s Game is the kind of story that benefits from Sorkin’s punchy dialogue and fast-paced energy. While this is Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game has all the DNA of a Sorkin project like Steve Jobs, The West Wing and Moneyball.
Most of the film’s best scenes feature Chastain and Elba tossing the signature Sorkin dialogue back and forth with breezy ease. This was an inspired pairing leading and the duo deliver some of their best performances. Elba makes being that good almost look too easy. It’s not that he sets out to steal the film as he provides exactly what’s needed, but his delivery and mannerisms make it more meaningful than a basic supporting performance. Elba is likely to get ignored during award season, but he provides an impressive performance.
It’d be even worse if Chastain were snubbed. A lot of Sorkin films feature irredeemable characters that deserve their hardships. Chastain gives Molly a cool, assured presence, but also has a sense of warmth and empathy lacking in so many Sorkin subjects. Molly might be the smartest person in the room, but is smart enough not to say it. This is Chastain’s most complete role yet and she takes full advantage with an undeniable performance that deserves recognition.
It felt both weird and refreshing that the film didn’t feature a romantic subplot. Weird in the sense that it was such a novelty that Molly’s success didn’t have to include a love interest. Sorkin doesn’t make a big deal out of Molly declaring she didn’t need a man or family to be complete and it felt natural.
At the same time, it would have been nice if Sorkin established some sort of relationships for Molly with some friends. Some of Molly’s gorgeous employees seem like they’d fit the bill for after hour pals, but Sorkin limits our access to Molly on a deeper level.
The film starts to lose its way somewhat in the final act. That’s the point where the lack of genuine insight into Molly’s mindset becomes evident. There’s a lack of clarity as to why she’s making decisions that don’t make a lot of sense. Like Molly’s earlier career, Sorkin can’t quite nail the landing and the ending underwhelms.
But for much of the ride, like enjoying a hot hand, Molly’s Game is very enjoyable thanks to the stacked deck of Chastain, Elba and Sorkin.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/STX Financing