‘Molly’s Game’ Review

By: Candid Cinema Staff

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s been in the industry for years. And after conceptualizing the wildly popular drama The West Wing (1999-2006) and winning multiple awards for the screenplay of The Social Network (2010), his directorial debut with Molly’s Game in 2017 was highly anticipated.

The film is based on the true story of former Olympic aspirant turned poker empress Molly Bloom, as told in her memoir of the same name. In fact, Bloom chose Sorkin to adapt her book into a screenplay, too, stating that he was her favorite writer.

In 2016, Jessica Chastain, who is known for playing feminist roles, was announced as the film’s lead. Notably, she was joined by Michael Cera as Player X, and Idris Elba as Bloom’s lawyer, Charlie Jaffey.

Shot in Toronto, Molly’s Game premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in 2017 — to popular acclaim.

One thing that Sorkin undoubtedly does well is writing — and that shines through with his use of flashbacks. Here, Kevin Costner fits the role of Molly’s overbearing father, training her incessantly in skiing until a 2002 injury ended her Olympic dreams.

Yet it seems extremely obvious that the Molly in the film is a Sorkin creation. She’s sharp as a shot and has something to say about mostly everything, and nothing in the film is delivered without a blast of that famous Sorkin narrative. Despite this, Chastain delivers with a confidence that takes you along for the ride — in this case, on a gap year to LA.

Instead of going to law school, Bloom eventually meets (failed) real estate developer Dean Keith and works as a waitress in his underground poker bar, The Cobra Lounge.

Here, she gets to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, including the mysterious Player X, a character who’s actually based on multiple celebrity poker players like Toby Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio. This exposure leads to her growing familiarity with the rules of poker — from terms and hand rankings, to the many nuances of players at the table. However, she also learned about how ruthless the game can be.

Bloom soon becomes more independent, running games on her own. And, realizing he can no longer control her, Keith fires her. But with her now formidable list of connections, she sets up her own games, and Player X even helps attract players away from The Cobra Lounge and toward her. Then, Harlan Eustice comes along.

Through Eustice’s heavy losses, Bloom learns and confronts Player X about his enjoyment for bankrupting people, and Cera, usually known for playing relatively meek roles, pulls off a villainy that is highly convincing.

Brilliantly, this scene lays down the path for the rest of the film, highlighting one recurrent thread: Bloom’s strong principles in the face of the nature of her business.

With that, she loses her LA connections and starts anew in New York, where the stakes get inevitably higher. And with players usually unable to pay, she’s forced to turn her games into an illegal operation to recoup her losses.

Her underground poker empire soon attracts members of the Russian and Italian mafia, and, after refusing help from the latter to extort money from players, she’s threatened in her home at gunpoint. A former player then leads the FBI to her, and her assets are seized. Two years later, she publishes her memoir.

The book, however, names a number of players, and soon the FBI arrests her for illegal gambling and involvement with the mafia. Here, lawyer Charlie Jaffey agrees to help, believing she’s committed no serious crimes.

Bloom’s trial is arguably the most electric part of the film. Both Bloom and Jaffey have strong attitudes that play off well with each other, and the excitement of the scenes, though mostly verbal, leaves the viewer wanting more.

With this, Molly’s Game ended on a strong note, with Sorkin giving a satisfying conclusion to his visual (but mostly narrative) tale of Bloom, a woman who made a name for herself in a male-dominated arena. This definitely remains one of our top films from 2017 for a reason!

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