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Review: Molly’s Game

Molly’s Game is based on the true story of Molly Bloom, a competitive freestyle skier who famously blew her Olympics chance and then rose to the pinnacle of the high stakes poker world running the most exclusive games in the country. The film is writer extraordinaire Aaron Sorkin’s (West Wing, The Social Network) directorial debut. And it’s intense. Jessica Chastain is outstanding as Molly. She’s smart and driven and living large. And Idris Elba is very easy on the eyes as Charlie Jaffey, the high-powered lawyer she hires to save her when it all comes crashing down and the FBI comes after her.

As with all Aaron Sorkin scripts this one is very wordy. The voice-over by Molly carries you through a lot of the film. I know some people who are put off by too much narration, but it works here. The story begins during Molly’s childhood with an overbearing Dad (Kevin Costner) pushing her hard to be the best on the slopes, as she pushes back at home. But when a freak accident puts her out of the running for the Olympics, she heads to LA for a gap year before law school, and takes an office job with a guy who just happens to run Hollywood’s biggest poker game. He’s a schmuck and when he fires her, she takes all she learned from him and starts her own game, taking his biggest customers and making it a much more upscale endeavor. But when she tangles with a famous actor known only as Player X (Michael Cera) she loses her LA game. Undeterred, she moves on to New York where she ups the ante and runs the highest stake poker game in the country and it all goes really well, until she makes a critical mistake and doesn’t vet her players well enough, welcoming the Russian Mob into her games. And that’s why the FBI comes after her.

And that’s where Charlie Jaffey comes in. She needs a lawyer, a great lawyer, but she has to talk him into taking her case because a) the media has painted a picture of her that is at odds with her version of the story, and b) she can’t pay his retainer, since the FBI took all her money. Needless to say, he comes around as he learns her story, much of it coming from her book, which he’s reading at the urging of his teenage daughter. He wants Molly to name names, since it’s her best option for not going to jail, but she won’t, citing her concern for the good people who would get caught, destroying their lives unfairly.

Bloom never did flip, but I’d love to know who Player X was since he’s such a nasty character, at one point admitting that he plays because he likes “ruining lives.” Chris O’Dowd’s Douglas Downey is the other memorable player, but he’s sad and sweet. The testosterone-laden poker world that the film inhabits feels seedy even when the blinds are a quarter million dollars. There are beautiful women brought in to serve drinks and money thrown around as a one-upsmanship ritual. There is a lot of explanation of the game, though I’m not sure I understood it all, but ultimately the game isn’t what it’s about. It’s all about Molly and she’s an enigma. Her daddy issues are dealt with in an odd scene near the end, but you never really get to know her. Was it all about the money? Was it about power over powerful men? I think this one would appeal to the people who loved Wolf of Wall Street and Aaron Sorkin’s style of writing. I liked it, particularly for Jessica Chastain’s performance. But story-wise it felt incomplete.

[Mainstream Chick’s take: I generally agree with Arty Chick on this one. The movie was a bit too heavy on the initial voiceover for my taste, and I’m shocked that a TV guru such as Sorkin would let his first directorial effort exceed a two-hour running time! But Jessica Chastain’s performance is excellent, the story is an interesting one, and Idris Elba is always fun to watch. -hb]

Here’s an article about Bloom written when her memoire was published. I’m betting Tobey Maguire is Player X after reading this.

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