Molly’s Game (2017)

  • Time: 140 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama
  • Director: Aaron Sorkin
  • Cast: Jessica Chastain, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Idris Elba, Jeremy Strong


Molly Bloom, a beautiful young Olympic-class skier, ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game for a decade before being arrested in the middle of the night by 17 FBI agents wielding automatic weapons. Her players included Hollywood royalty, sports stars, business titans, and finally, unbeknownst to her, the Russian mob. Her only ally was her criminal defense lawyer Charlie Jaffey, who learned that there was much more to Molly than the tabloids led us to believe.


  • A bright law student becomes the madam of the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game in Los Angeles and New York. It may seem a wholly cinematic invention but it is very much the true story of one Molly Bloom, who built a multi-million-dollar empire from scratch and was eventually the target of an FBI investigation and whose life story is depicted in the highly engrossing Molly’s Game.

    That the film should be so indefatigably kinetic should come as no surprise considering that the tale is told by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, famous for his torrentially verbose dialogue for TV’s The West Wing and for films such as The Social Network, Moneyball and Steve Jobs. Molly’s Game marks Sorkin’s directorial debut and proves that he is as dynamic a director as he is a screenwriter. Part of this is undoubtedly due to his inherent confidence in his own screenplay, which allows Sorkin the ability to get out of the way and simply let the story and his magnificent lead actors, Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, speak for themselves.

    Speak they most certainly do. The film’s opening minutes are a dense jungle of information as Sorkin presents pre-Poker Princess Molly back when she was one of the best freestyle skiers in the country. A freak accident results in the end of her skiing career. Deciding to take a year off before starting law school, she moves to Los Angeles, wanting “to be young for a while in warm weather.” Working at a club, she encounters Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong), a real estate agent who hires her to work in his office and soon gets her to organise the weekly underground poker game he hosts, which is populated by movie stars, rappers, and business titans. Molly observes the ins and outs of the game, the participants’ psychologies and playing styles, Googles whatever she doesn’t know, and finds herself raking in thousands in tips. When Dean tries to cut her out of the game, she decides to host her own, poaching his players, impressing them with a fancier location and the best amenities, and diligently running it as a legitimate business.

    Sorkin makes it crystal clear that, whilst the primary reason for the players’ switch of allegiance was due to celebrity poker player, Player X (Michael Cera, lacing his character’s malice with a comedic streak), making the move, it was Molly’s savvy that allowed all her players to feel both nurtured and in full control of the game. Sorkin also conveys how, despite being the one in charge of every facet of her empire, Molly’s fate often hinges on the whims of powerful men, whether it be her demanding psychologist father (an excellent Kevin Costner), who demanded athletic and academic excellence; douchebag boss Dean; petty Player X, who shuts down her Los Angeles business in a heartbeat; lovelorn alcoholic Douglas Downey (a hilarious Chris O’Dowd), who would bring figures connected to the Russian mafia into the game; or Charlie Jaffey (Elba), the lawyer trying with all of his might to keep her out of prison. Even when Sorkin attributes most of her problems to daddy issues, it’s nevertheless difficult to deny the hard-as-nails moxie of Molly.

    The cast all get moments to shine – Brian d’Arcy James and Bill Camp both make strong impressions as two of Molly’s regular players – and Elba pulls off one barnburner of a monologue, but this is Chastain’s showcase and she never lets one forget it. Slinking through in cleavage-baring outfits and sky-high stilettos, her Molly deploys her glamorous and sexy persona as both shield and weapon. Chastain once again proves that, despite being the only woman in the room, she’s the most formidable figure there.

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  • (RATING: ☆☆☆½ out of 5 stars)

    GRADE: B-


    IN BRIEF: A hand well played, but not a grand slam.

    SYNOPSIS: The true story of Molly Bloom and the fast-paced world of gambling.

    RUNNING TIME: 2 hrs., 20 mins.

    JIM’S REVIEW: Molly’s Game is a well directed, well acted, and well written film. Yet I was never emotionally drawn to any of the characters or their situations. Everyone is so into self-gratification and greed that nothing appears remotely real, though it is based on a true story.

    Jessica Chastain is Molly Bloom and she is perfectly cast and almost makes one care for this controlling and conniving survivor. Her character becomes the mastermind behind many gambling sessions from Los Angeles to New York. Molly uses her business savvy and sexuality to lure many men into her high-stakes card games. Wearing the tightest of dresses and showing off her wares in low cut cleavage revealing outfits, Molly is dressed to kill as she preys upon a rotating group of motley losers ranging from famous egotistic actors, rich businessmen, and Russian thugs. (Kudos to costume designer Susan Lyall.)

    We meet the many crazy types of rich gamblers and their obsessions with instant thrills in the crazy world of poker. We also learn that Molly is one sharp player who is slowly being corrupted by the high rollers and their expensive habits. This will all lead to her arrest and trial on federal charges. Enter Idris Elba to her rescue as her fast-talking attorney (no one in this movie speaks slowly or at at normal pace).

    Part of the reason the film mildly disappoints is the film’s structure. It jumps from past events (Molly’s adolescent years, her rise and fall as an Olympic athlete, her gambling acumen) to her central issue as a gamer who destroys others people’s lives in order to earns millions. The flashbacks and forwards tell her autobiographical tale of wealth and corruption, but at the cost of any remote feeling for this rather shallow and selfish person. Much of the film (based on her memoir) seems like a con game for not only the gamblers, hoodlums, and patsies that crisscrossed her life but for the moviegoers too. The real world as depicted in this movie just is too unreal.

    In his directing debut, Aaron Sorkin tries to keep the action moving and plays up the psychological ramification of this dangerous game but his message becomes heavy-handed and no matter his visual sleight of hand, with all of his fancy editing techniques and wordplay, it cannot hide the film’s emptiness of any redeemable characters, including our lead heroine.

    Mr. Sorkin’s screenplay is literate and filled with quick talk and clever conversations, but it never builds to any satisfying conclusion. Scenes are riveting but then jarringly cut to another piece of Molly’s life. The effect makes one becomes dizzy with all the exposition and convoluted storytelling.  Also, there is a plot contrivance in the third act, that is so far-fetched and melodramatic (although it is well performed by Mr. Costner as Molly’s strict father) that I was ready to hold ’em and fold ’em due to the absurdity of the sequence.

    Another problem script-wise is that the film’s colorful supporting characters are introduced, have their big dramatic moments, and then conveniently disappear from the narrative. The film focuses a tad too much on the title character without paying enough homage to its fine supporting cast which includes Bill Camp, Michael Cera, Brian d’Arcy James, Chris O’Dowd, Jeremy Strong, and the aforementioned Mr. Costner. Their strong ensemble work becomes mere second-place footnotes in Molly’s non-stop voice-overs.

    The lead acting, however, is aces. Ms. Chastain greatly impresses with her nuanced performance and her subtle acting choices which show us a strong but damaged character worthy of our attention. Her verbal sparring and rapid banter with Mr. Elba make their film teamwork rather special.

    The film may not be a grand slam or one of a kind filmmaking, but it deals a somewhat winning hand. Just don’t expect to win big when seeing Molly’s Game.

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  • Rating: 7*.

    Wordy but entertaining.

    You can never accuse Aaron Sorkin of skimping on his words. Sorkin is of course the award-winning writer of “The West Wing” but on the big screen he has also written many classics: “A Few Good Men”; “The Social Network” and “Steve Jobs” for example. Here he also makes his directorial debut in a movie about the true-life turbulent career of Olympic wannabe skier Molly Bloom.

    Bloom is played by Jessica Chastain, from films such as “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Miss Sloane” (one of my films of the year last year). Chastain’s roles as an actress are often quite cold and calculating, as suits her demeanour. As such her characters are not often easy to warm to in movies (and as such, my wife is not a fan).

    Here as Molly Bloom she is as equally driven as in “Miss Sloane“, but the drive is learned from her father (Kevin Costner), bullying her to be the best she can be at skiing in a highly competitive family. Forced out of the skiing business (for reasons I won’t spoil), she takes a “gap year” from law school that turns into a “gap life” after she falls into the slightly shady business of running poker nights for LA’s rich elite. It’s here that Chastain’s Bloom is able to show a gentler and more compassionate side, trying to talk some of her clients (who invariably fall in love with her) off the ledge of their gambling addiction.

    Sorkin’s script (based on Molly’s own autobiography, I should add) does a really nice job of cutting backwards and forwards through Molly’s timeline to drill into motivations and her mental state, and in doing so he pulls out an award-winning (or at least Golden-Globe award-nominating) performance from Chastain in the process. Also very effective though is Kevin Costner (“Hidden Figures“, “Man of Steel“), who is quietly building an impressive portfolio of supporting actor roles. Here he rather dials in his “tough and aloof guy” performance until the park bench scene (below) where he surprises in a good way.

    It’s also a blessed relief to find a decent vehicle to showcase the undoubted talents of Britain’s Idris Elba – an actor who has been woefully served by rubbish such as “Bastille Day“, rather lame sequels like “Star Trek: Beyond” or minor roles such as in “Thor: Ragnarok“. Here he can really get his teeth into the role of Molly’s lawyer, with a multi-layered character that reveals a little – but not too much of – his back-story to leave you with intriguing questions.

    So it’s a good film, but an intelligent watch that mandates your attention. The script is sufficiently dense and wordy that it requires significant concentration: this is not a “park your brain at the door” type of ‘Michael Bay film’. (As such, while it remains a recommended watch, I’m not sure it would be one that would necessarily make my DVD list for repeat watchings).

    But again, I must comment on what an amazing year this is turning out to be for women in film. Less #Me-too and more #She-do! Once again, here is a movie where a confident woman is firmly in the driving seat, and while powerful men try to bring her down, it is not them that succeeds. (The studio bill for talent in the past year must be a LOT less than it was the year before! #don’tshootme #topicalhumour #CarrieGracey). #TimesUp.

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  • In Molly’s Game (my latest review), we get a film based on a book and a true story. We also get a portrayal of a semi-protagonist who’s in way over her head. Finally, we get the biggest amount of wayward chit-chat ever put on celluloid. Yup, this is Aaron Sorkin’s sphere and we’re just passing through it.

    Sorkin penned “Game’s” screenplay so you know the actors words will be juicy and expository to the nth degree. You also know that Sorkin’s work will have hints of cynicism and cruelness. Finally, you know that Aaron Sorkin will be making yet another cameo appearance. With “Game”, he plays an underground poker player that’s just hanging out.

    Anyway, Molly’s Game has a similar arc to The Social Network (which is also written by Sorkin). And although “Game” isn’t quite as invigorating, weighty, or compelling as “Network”, it’s still worth recommending.

    Edited tightly (even at 140 minutes), completely dialogue-driven, and containing ferocious performances from the likes of Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, Molly’s Game is about a former skier turned illegal Hollywood poker game runner.

    “Game” dodges between flashbacks and present day scenes involving Molly Bloom (Chastain) and her quest to avoid jail time. In the vein of card shark tactics, buy-ins, rakes, and Russian mafia inquests, you can safely call Molly’s Game 1998’s Rounders on steroids (ha-ha).

    In total veracity, I dug the intelligence and sophistication of a flick like “Game”. This is Aaron Sorkin’s first foray behind the camera and yes, he can direct as well as write. Sorkin shoots Molly’s Game with a fast cutting style, a slow-motion know-who, and a rags to riches to rags residue. It’s as if he were Martin Scorsese’s unequivocal proxy. Sorkin’s a steamrolling director, sledgehammering character study interludes while filling the screen with countless details (his script feels like it’s 5000 words long).

    Now despite not fully hitting its stride thematically and climatically, “Game” is nevertheless Aaron Sorkin in his highest comfort zone. This is him getting free rein to do whatever he wants. Basically this is Sorkin pushing the talky envelope. Sure his Molly’s Game is overlong, over-explanatory, and narrative-binged (Chastain is like Ray Liotta talking twice as much as he did in Goodfellas). Regardless, this motion picture feels worldly-wised and more cultivated than your average, dumbed-down blockbuster. “Game” while no “royal flush”, still checks in as the thinking person’s moonlight drama. Rating: 3 stars.

    Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

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