The 400-Word Review: Molly's Game
By Sean Collier
January 8, 2018
Molly’s Game, the directorial debut from Aaron Sorkin, is as frenetic as his dialogue. There are a lot of ideas here, elbowing each other for space and attention as the film careens toward something like a resolution. It’s undoubtedly a ride; fortunately, two excellent (and still underrated) leads are present to help you hang on.
The real Molly Bloom, the longtime master of ceremonies at underground, high-stakes poker games catering to Hollywood royalty and Wall Street fat cats, is ultimately a figure like many others: a minorly misguided soul who, after an early brush with success, found a way into the glittery fringes of high society. In Bloom’s case, the brush with fame came via competitive skiing; after a fluke accident (harrowingly depicted in the film), Bloom drifted around L.A. before a gig as a cocktail waitress led to her first poker game.
Bloom, unlike the thousands with similar stories which go untold, had the good sense to write a book about her experiences. Some of the famous men who saddled up to her table were named, others were not; nevertheless, the book (excerpted in Vanity Fair) made an impact. And led to criminal charges — but, more importantly, led to a film adaptation.
The fictional Molly, played by Jessica Chastain, is a pillar of tenacity and ambition. While the real Molly’s father was an athlete, here he’s a psychologist and absentee parent, played in a small but surprisingly mighty turn by Kevin Costner. The forgotten-child trope may be a bit trite, but it serves as a springboard to the true exploration of Molly’s Game — the idea of making a name for one’s self, and what that can mean from various angles.
At times, that journey takes the form of an extended riff on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, which is name-checked early only to be mirrored throughout. At others, it’s a reflection on the challenges of maintaining a strong (yet necessarily chaste) female presence in a world lousy with impossibly powerful men. It’s also sometimes about poker, which is usually good cinema.
Vitally, Molly’s Game is yet another marquee showcase for Chastain, who continues to declare her presence at the highest echelon of film acting. Idris Elba, as Bloom’s lawyer, is excellent as well — the two make a fine on-screen duo — but as has often been the case, Chastain’s power is the lifeblood of the film.
My Rating: 9/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark