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Molly's Game - Review

Molly's Game

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

HAVING dazzled with his sharply worded screenplays for the likes of The West Wing, The Social Network and Steve Jobs, Aaron Sorkin now makes his directorial debut with the equally sharp Molly’s Game. It helps that he wrote the script too.

Based on the memoirs of Molly Bloom, a former ski jumper who went on to run one of the biggest underground gambling dens in US history, the film finds Sorkin once again dealing with a fascinating central character and expertly doing justice to her complex rise to infamy.

He then doubles down by surrounding Bloom with an equally intriguing set of supporting players, inhabited by great character actors such as Idris Elba, Kevin Costner and Bill Camp.

But this is first and foremost Jessica Chastain’s film and, just as she did with Zero Dark Thirty, she creates a formidable female protagonist: a woman forced to exist in a man’s world but who scraps and masterminds her way to the top no matter what obstacles are placed before her.

When we first meet Bloom, for instance, she’s on the verge of skiing success and a shot at The Olympics… until a freak injury ruins her ambitions.

Forced to find work as a cocktail waitress for a somewhat misogynist boss, she is then asked to oversee his weekly high-stakes poker game, at which the great and the good of LA’s gambling scene – including an A-list actor (Michael Cera) – convene.

It doesn’t take Bloom long to make her own play by subsequently setting up her own game and commanding LA’s underground scene.

But when Cera’s egotistical A-lister decides to flex his own celebrity power, Bloom finds herself once again staring into the abyss, before opting to start from scratch in New York and quickly establishing the kind of high stakes game nights that eventually stoke the interest of the Russian Mob.

Sorkin’s film recalls Bloom’s ups and downs via flashback, as she is eventually brought before the courts with only a sceptical but sympathetic lawyer (Idris Elba) for support.

If Molly’s Game doesn’t ultimately marry the same visual wizardry to verbal fireworks as the David Fincher directed Social Network (surely the benchmark for big screen Sorkin), the writer-director nevertheless injects his film with an energy born from his verbal dexterity.

Early on, for instance, Bloom lays out her background in such a quick-fire manner that you really have to battle to keep up. The dialogue has a rhythm that’s very Sorkin. Once you slip into the film’s groove, though, it’s as slick and expertly executed as a card shark’s hand.

Yet while certainly calculated and episodic to a point, it’s also populated by characters worth caring about. Chastain is in tour-de-force mode, turning someone who could – and perhaps should – be unsympathetic into the film’s beating heart. An underdog, however unlikely, who rises against some amazing odds.

Chastain is, by turns, feisty, ruthless, compassionate and vulnerable. Viewers may well wince at one particularly excruciating lesson she receives from the Mob.

But she’s a survivor – one who battles not only male chauvinism but also her own personal demons, insecurities and addictions (the latter of which are glossed over a little by Sorkin).

There’s terrifically entertaining support, too, from Elba, who even gets a grandstanding lawyer’s speech, and Costner, as Bloom’s strict father, who gets one genuinely great scene with her.

Chris O’Dowd also crops up belatedly to deliver a darkly comic turn as one of Bloom’s more dangerous players, while the likes of Cera, Camp (as one particularly memorable player) and Jeremy Strong (as her beast of a boss) all make their mark in some way.

Sorkin’s screenplay is also eye-opening for the way in which it lifts the veil on another of Hollywood and America’s dark secrets (making it timely to boot), even if it stops short of naming every name (although the identity of Cera’s A-lister is just a Google away).

Hence, Molly’s Game functions as both a scintillating character study and a fascinating expose. It’s well worth booking a seat at this table.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 20mins
UK Release Date: January 1, 2018