Molly’s Game — 7/10

MOLLY’S GAME (2017, Aaron Sorkin)

MOLLY’S GAME is not about poker, and don’t let anyone tell you it is. Not that Sorkin doesn’t get the poker accurate most of the time, but you can tell he’s putting it in there just for specificity. He doesn’t care about it. What he cares about is Molly, and telling a story about a woman who rose to power despite the men in her life, not because of them. Tabloids made us think Bloom was the Heidi Fleiss of underground gambling — but within 90 seconds of this film, Sorkin sets us straight.

Chastain boils Bloom down to a laser-focused drive, humor as dry as the Mojave, seemingly zero interest in romance, and a steely constitution that’s hard to crack. She could easily have played it sassy or sexy, but she’s too smart an actor for that — she underplays the drama, making everything more intense. This works well with Costner’s father role, one given cursory treatment for the first two acts, but then he delivers a slobber-knocker of a scene late in the movie that re-contextualizes his entire being and almost rips your heart out. It’s the best he’s been since at least TIN CUP, if not REVENGE.

Idris Elba gets his chance too, in a monologue that’s so impassioned he almost passes out exhausted on screen from delivering it. He plays his lawyer like a boxer who takes a while to decide when to put up a fight, but once he does, he leaves it all in the ring. Actors absolutely relish Sorkin roles, as they have for 25 years. Why wouldn’t you? He’s terrific. Hate his arrogance all you want, but he’s a musician with dialogue, and even Michael Cera as a loathsome, worm-like Tobey Maguire is unlike you’ve ever seen him.

The cast and dialogue are front and center here because this comes from a playwright. STEVE JOBS, Sorkin’s last effort, was even more of a stage play — but this definitely feels like it plays to the rafters and not the lens. His direction is functional but non-distinct. If you’d told me he handed it off to Danny Boyle I might have believed you, save for the lack of hyper editing choices. Also, and sorry for the poker pun, but Sorkin stacks the deck here with his villains (like he often did with Michael Douglas’s punching bag opponents in THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT). And a little too much of the storytelling is voiceover-montage-set-to-techno-music, a gimmick that wears a bit thin over time. But overall, this is a sharp-eared love letter to dogged intelligence, determined hard work, and the populist ideals Sorkin has made dear to his heart over his long career. For a directing debut, it feels correctly like the work of a guy who’s done this for decades.

 

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