Fusing Goodfellas and The Wolf Of Wall Street, Aaron Sorkin’s take and directorial debut on the Molly Bloom story starts with an almighty bang, before settling for more conformist tropes of the biopic genre.
For those unfamiliar with the “Poker Princess”, Bloom was the target of an FBI investigation over her running an underground poker empire which had members of the Russian mob attending.
But Bloom refused to give up the big names in the case, putting her on a collision course with a lawyer (Elba) and the authorities, determined to take her down.
Molly’s Game, taken from the memoir Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker, starts with fire, a high stakes ticking story of Bloom’s initial career as a skier, and how that fell apart when chance crippled her opportunity to take it to the next stage.
It’s in the opening moments that Sorkin’s penchant for sparkling dialogue combines expertly with clever editing and creates something that’s tense with Chastain wonderfully espousing the words written for her Bloom.
Soon after, the polished and slick film settles for a calmer feel, one that’s saddled with exposition and narration to tell the story – and while there’s initial energy, the combination of that, flashbacks and sequences with Elba’s lawyer Jaffey means the film loses some of its oomph.
But in the poker scenes, there’s a palpable sense of tension and suspense – mostly due to how it’s shot.
With Chastain’s Bloom on the edges, and her business acumen being the main driver for her dilemma, there’s a definite frisson bubbling away under these scenes.
Infuriatingly though, Sorkin’s desire to characterise Bloom’s reason for her predicament as being due to her relationship with her father is cloying at best and irritating given how much strength and independence he’s imbued Chastain’s Bloom with throughout. A reliance on flashbacks punches the sentiment further in, and even though Chastain and Costner work well on screen, it feels piecemeal and trite to boil it all down to this in the denouement.
Molly’s Game is never better when Chastain is prowling through the screen.
With a sense of dynamism and a feeling of utter control, this is an anti-hero that we can get behind, even if the moral compass is guiding Bloom to her downfall and her reasoning. Chastain is electric and defies you to look away when she’s in full control of proceedings, and the moments the cracks and chinks in the armour show, it’s horrifyingly real and frighteningly vulnerable.
Ultimately, for Sorkin’s debut behind the camera, he’s relied on what you’d expect of him – dialogue heavy (a little too so in voiceover terms) and better in characterising moments for his protagonist rather than others around. But nonetheless, Molly’s Game is a film full of high stakes, led by a dazzling queen in this card deck – it’s not exactly a full house, but it’s certainly one that stacks the deck squarely in the chutzpah stakes and proves an occasional wild card.
Molly’s Game: Film Review
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Michael cera, Chris O’Dowd, Kevin Costner
Director: Aaron Sorkin