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Review by Tom Cooney
There’s been many poker movies over the years, ranging from the highs of Martin Scorsese’s 1990 Goodfellas and Daniel Craig’s 2006 James Bond debut Casino Royale, to some much more forgettable lows. Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut Molly’s Game is another effort adding to this collection, but it certainly doesn’t blend into the crowd. The film follows Jessica Chastain’s Molly Bloom: a former Olympic-class skier whose devastating injury leads her to running dizzyingly-high-stakes poker games, ultimately resulting in her arrest by 17 armed FBI agents. It’s a true story so astounding that it almost seems made for the big screen.
Beginning with this arrest, Bloom retrospectively narrates her encounters with some of the world’s biggest stars and wealthiest tycoons – giving her an unparalleled insight into their often-scandalous lives. Of course, all the names have been changed in this film, but it sure is entertaining to theorise and research the truth behind the aliases. Michael Cera’s Player X is one particular character that holds a jaw-dropping power complex, and it is the actor’s most interesting role in years. Scott Pilgrim, this man is not.
It is undeniably Jessica Chastain who steals the show, though, commanding every shot in which she appears. Bloom is far from a squeaky-clean character, but Molly’s Game differs from many other films of the genre by encouraging us to root for her – not as an anti-hero, but as a genuine person. Idris Elba is almost equally impressive as Molly’s attorney, fighting her case after the incident that triggers the film’s framing narrative.
By using this narrative-structure, Sorkin’s script flits backwards and forwards in time, from Molly running the games to her present-day court-case. It’s an elaborate way to tell this story, especially when considering the recurring flashbacks to Molly’s childhood with overbearing father Kevin Costner. However, despite these three narrative strands ramping up the film’s runtime to a lengthy two-hours-twenty-minutes, Sorkin’s film rarely meanders. The snappy dialogue for which the filmmaker is renowned keeps the pace rolling at the speed of a thriller – proving that while this is undoubtedly an impressive directorial debut, the man flourishes in his screenwriting.
In a recent string of tweets, Chastain vented her frustration on being deemed an actor who plays ‘strong women’, as the term implies that ‘most women aren’t’. Instead, she wrote, ‘how about I just play well written parts?’ This is exactly who Molly Bloom is: not merely a strong woman, but an incredibly complex real person expertly translated to the screen by Sorkin. She is the heart of a fresh and exciting film that I hope is a sign of where cinema is headed as we progress into 2018.