Before walking into Molly’s Game, I paused and reflected on how wonderful this year has been for females in film. Patty Jenkins delivering a strong heroine tale with Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman, Greta Gerwig directing my favorite film of 2017 with Lady Bird and Saoirse Ronan alongside Laurie Metcalf, Sally Hawkins stealing the show in The Shape of Water and even Rooney Mara in A Ghost Story. The list can continue, but I’m adding — with confidence — the captivating Jessica Chastain to the list of everything wonderful about females in film for 2017.
Molly’s Game is Aaron Sorkin‘s directorial debut after spending much time as a writer for shows you all can Google. Sorkin tells the tale of Molly Bloom (Chastain), former top-ranked Olympian skier — third in North America — turned high-stakes poker organizer. As a child, Bloom was pushed to her limits by her father, Larry (Kevin Costner). Bloom comes from a family of athletes, including her brother who was the top-ranked Olympic skier in the world and another who went on to be drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the sixth round. It’s safe to say Molly has always been surrounded by male testosterone, and she hates it. She purposefully picks fights with her father. She’s a brat at times. But once she grows up and cannot ski any more — she suffered a major injury after tripping on a frozen pine atop a tough slope — decides to be one of the few women in poker to run high stakes games, controlling the streets of New York and Los Angeles.
Oh, and she wrote a book about everything that, as you can imagine, doesn’t bode well for her and the government who wants to take her down.
Sorkin does what Sorkin does, and that’s use heavy dialogue and a style of tell don’t show. If you wanted a back-and-forth with Idris Elba — who plays Molly’s attorney Charlie Jaffey — for almost half a film, this is the one for you. I don’t say that like it’s a negative, however. Elba and Chastain provide great chemistry each time they share the screen, and Sorkin plays to their strengths. This is one of the more compelling roles for Chastain, also, so seeing her get 90 percent of screentime brought a smile to my face. I just wish instead of, for example, hearing Elba tell Chastain she’s his daughter’s role model that we actually saw that play out. Again, tell don’t show is Sorkin’s forte and sometimes to a fault.
When Molly is explaining how she got in trouble with the FBI, Sorkin heavily plays to fans of sports and poker. There are high-intensity moments and motion graphics that explain just how risky Molly’s sport is. Poker fans will find joy in the rapid explanation of what’s occurring during Molly’s games. At times the quick sequencing of shots can be a bit overwhelming, but Chastain’s gentle narration helps get us through the confusing times (I mean, I still found myself scratching my head at what the phrase “the nuts” meant).
As the film lingers onward — and believe me, this one feels like the full two hours and 20 minutes — it’s not the tale that kept me around. It was the genuis of Chastain and help of the supporting cast. Welcoming cameos from Chris O’Dowd and Joe Keery surprised me, and they played off Chastain well-enough to keep the story afloat as we get through the second act. Although, there are other actors that really bogged down every ounce of their time on-screen. Michael Cera is Player X (some of the names were withheld from the story by Molly), a confident and cocky poker player. His character is crucial to the plot, but Cera feels like he simply isn’t acting. I’ve always had an issue with him, though, and my issues continue in this one. He was simply a bore and miscast in this role.
This film is very timely, as it provides strong undertones of female empowerment. Molly’s childhood and experiences at home among her brothers and father drove her to craving control over poker games. These men flocked to games she organized; these men were at her beck and call. Molly had $2.5 million on the streets of New York. Talk about being the boss.
Outside of Chastain and Elba, the rest of Molly’s Game feels a bit basic. That’s not to say it’s distracting, but Sorkin has a formula that he sticks to. That’s it: you either enjoy Sorkin or you don’t and with this film there’s no middle ground. That’s make-or-break for most people, but for me, the film holds its own just fine and my interest for the near two-and-a-half hour journey. It’s easy to see why Chastain is being nominated for her role as Molly — she deserves it.
I was treated to an advanced screening thanks to STX Entertainment and Allied Integrated Marketing.
Molly’s Game is rated R, runs 2 hours and 20 minutes and opens in theaters on Dec. 25, 2017.