Directed by: Aaron Sorkin
Premise: Based on true events. Former Olympic contender Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) succeeds in the world of private gambling. She runs games that host the biggest names in entertainment and business until she runs afoul of an organized crime investigation.
What Works: Aaron Sorkin has a long history as a writer and a producer of movies and television programs such as A Few Good Men, The Social Network, and The West Wing. Molly’s Game is Sorkin’s directorial debut and it’s an impressive first feature. Sorkin proves himself a filmmaker with style and he uses interesting cinematic techniques in telling the story. This is a technical movie insofar as it is about the subtleties of poker and successfully running a high stakes gaming operation. The filmmakers find ways of making that interesting and presenting card games in a way that is cinematic and clear to the audience. Sorkin also wrote the screenplay and that’s the area in which Molly’s Game is most impressive. Sorkin is a talented writer but he tends to fall in love with his own work and Sorkin sometimes creates characters who are obnoxiously smug or tells stories that preach to the audience. Molly’s Game impresses in the way it showcases the best of Aaron Sorkin while minimizing many of his worst tendencies. Like a lot of Sorkin’s protagonists, Molly Bloom is the smartest person in the room but the story puts her in a disadvantaged position and she’s flawed in a way that makes her accessible. The dialogue is snappy and there are a few of the characteristically witty Sorkin exchanges but they are limited and reigned in with Sorkin showing some restraint. The storytelling of Molly’s Game is ambitious and it leaps backward and forward on the timeline. It is generally clear why one scene follows another and Sorkin arranges his scenes for maximum impact. This a good example of voiceover used to drive the story. It’s well written and fills in the gaps of the narrative while maintain Bloom’s voice. The film features a commanding lead performance by Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom. Chastain does this kind of tough but feminine character well and she conveys Bloom’s intelligence while managing a balance of feistiness and vulnerability.
What Doesn’t: Molly’s Game is paced pretty well but the movie rushes through its final portion. The narrative jumps backward and forward in time, explaining Molly’s backstory regarding her family, her athletic career, and her gaming business while telling the story of her legal defense. The present tense gets a lot less screen time than the past and Bloom’s trial and the movie itself end anticlimactically. In an attempt to give Molly’s Game a more resonant and meaningful conclusion, the filmmakers resort to a clumsy and oversimplified connection between Molly Bloom’s life choices and her relationship with her father. This is accomplished in an absurd sequence in which Bloom’s psychologist father sits with his daughter on a park bench and rushes through years of analysis in a few minutes. It’s a stumble backward into Sorkin’s obnoxious habits in a movie that generally avoids them.
Bottom Line: Molly’s Game is an entertaining piece of work that tells its story with energy and wit. The film is a strong directorial debut from Aaron Sorkin anchored by a terrific performance by Jessica Chastain.
Episode: #681 (January 14, 2017)