Award-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin loves dissecting business cultures and breaking them down into the essential elements that make our modern world go ’round. From his behind-the-scenes look at network news and the way the media sets our national agenda (The Newsroom) to the birth of social media and the cutthroat tactics of its inventors (The Social Network) to the minutiae of baseball statistics and the birth of Sabermetrics (Moneyball), Sorkin is at his most effective when he immerses his audience in a world with which they are unfamiliar while bringing it to vivid life for them. Such is the case with Sorkin’s newest film and his directorial debut, Molly’s Game, based on the memoir by Molly Bloom, a young Olympic hopeful who built her fortune organizing high stakes, underground poker games in Los Angeles and New York City.
In the opening scenes of the film, the FBI raids Molly’s home and takes her into custody. We don’t know why. We just know that she seems to be in serious trouble, finding herself listed in a multi-count federal indictment with a dozen other defendants, some of whom are organized crime figures. The film then flashes back to where it all began: Molly’s ski run to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team where a one-in-a-million fluke accident brings her athletic career to a screeching halt. She decides to move from Colorado to the warmth of Los Angeles and enjoy life for awhile. The remainder of the film chronicles Molly’s life between those milestone events as well as the fallout from her high-profile arrest.
The film buzzes with the rat-a-tat-tat dialogue and authenticity of an Aaron Sorkin screenplay. Characters drop poker lingo like “pot committed”, “sucking out on the river” and “bad beat”. Jessica Chastain’s performance is a force of nature. She’s in full command of the film. While there’s plenty of cleavage and leg on display, it’s Molly’s brains and her resolve that drive the drama. As Gordon Gekko crudely describes it in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987), Molly wants to “piss in the tall weeds with the big dogs”. And that she does, until it comes time to pay the piper for her ritzy lifestyle derived from ill-gotten gains.
The majority of Molly’s Game plays like a soft core version of The Wolf of Wall Street. Just substitute gambling for insider trading and Ponzi schemes. It’s fascinating stuff, but the film is much more interested in process and procedure than it is about the people caught up in the drama.
Near the end of the film, Larry Bloom (Kevin Costner) sits on a park bench next to his daughter and offers to psychoanalyze her in just a few minutes. The exchange between Costner and Chastain is one of the finest scenes of 2017 and gives Molly’s Game a dose of emotion that the film lacks for the majority of its running time. It’s the one moment that the film shakes free of the novelty of its premise and truly soars. As it is, Molly’s Game is a solid piece of entertainment. With a few more scenes examining the emotional depths of its characters, it might’ve been something truly special.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.