Molly’s Game: Vintage Sorkin

Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in MOLLY'S GAME

Molly’s Game Plot Summary:

Based on the true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a former professional skier who after suffering a career ending injury, turned to running elite, underground poker games.  After overextending herself with too many high stake games, she attracts unwanted attention from the Russian mob, and faces indictment from the FBI.

Even though this is Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, you can tell in the first three seconds he is indeed the director.  Sorkin is no doubt one of Hollywood’s most prominent, successful screenwriters.  You always know when you’re watching one of his screenplays.  Whatever you imagined a Sorkin directed movie to be like, this is 100% it.  My biggest fear with Molly’s Game was that it would get too Sorkin.  While that happens from time to time, I have to give credit where credit is due – Sorkin delivers a blissfully entertaining movie as only he can.

The first sequence might be the very best of the entire movie.  It’s almost as if the first day on set, Aaron Sorkin kicked down the door and just started giving direction without even saying hello to the crew or anything.  In classic Sorkin fashion, it doesn’t even have anything to do with the main plot.  It’s a deep, in-depth analysis of Molly Bloom’s injury, but perfectly sets up the character.  The sequence is like Sorkin on steroids, but extremely well crafted.  And yes, it has a Jessica Chastain voiceover that is full of words being spoken really, really, really fast.  Classic Sorkin.

Speaking of Jessica Chastain, she’s phenomenal.  I know.  Stop the presses.  Chastain is the quintessential leading lady.  As Molly Bloom, she exudes an exorbitant amount of intelligence.  She’s tough as nails.  She’s driven to the point of lunacy.  But what really balances out the performance is when Molly is desperate and completely at the bottom of the barrel.  Chastain expresses this beautifully, but gives Molly just an ounce of confidence on her face to remind us all who she is.  It’s a flawless performance, but she wasn’t the only one.

Everyone rejoice!  Holy matza balls, Idris Elba finds his way into a good movie in 2017!  It happened.  And unlike Thor: Ragnarok, he actually does something.  Not only is Elba in a good movie, but he gives one of the best performances of the year, and should get Best Supporting Actor consideration.  As Molly’s lawyer, he gets two or three insane Sorkin monologues where the background might as well have gone dark where they just shine a spotlight on him.  One scene in particular has Elba defending Molly, as he tries to cut a deal with the prosecutors.  This is one of those moments where the audience actually cheered at the end of the speech.  It’s that good.

Another great performance was Michael Cera, who’s only known as “Player X,” but represents the high celebrity clientele that came to Molly’s games.  This was a real change for Cera, who actually plays a super confident guy in control of everything.  He’s the best card player on the table, and while likable at first, he ends up being a weasel, but a crucial plot device.

Speaking of the poker scenes, they were masterfully well down.  They kick the crap out of those embarrassing, atrocious poker moments from Casino Royale.  Ugh.  While no Rounders, they were very tense, but Chastain and Sorkin add that special, light touch as only they can.  If you play a lot of Poker, there’s one scene in particular that EVERYONE can identify with.  One of the awful players only does well because he has no idea what he’s doing.  He makes one of the better card players lose his damn mind, causing him to spiral out of control.  That was both funny and sad to watch.

As entertaining as Molly’s Game is, it has a lot of frustrating problems.  The second half is significantly weaker.  This is where the inexperienced directing creeps in.  Once Molly moves her operation to New York and gets into deeper trouble, the movie loses a ton of steam.  It becomes repetitive and drawn out, just not as entertaining.  The movie is way too long and needed some cuts.

The other problem is that Sorkin does indeed get too Sorkin.  As great of a writer as he is, he can be maddening sometimes.  There are two sequences with Chastain and Elba in particular where he goes off the rails.  One is when Molly argues with him about not wanting to give up electronic information (texts/e-mails) because she’s afraid they won’t be secure.  It starts out riveting, but it just keeps going and going and going and going, as only a Sorkin conversation can.

Then towards the end, Molly has to make a big decision that could ruin other lives in the process.  It’s a fantastic shouting match between Chastain and Elba, where Molly’s principles are on full display.  But what does Sorkin do?  He undercuts the whole damn scene just so he can pepper in a clever joke.  It derails this brilliant exchange in the same way Marvel movies ruin great moments with a joke.  Unbelievably frustrating.

One of the major themes and conflicts is between Molly and her dad, played by Kevin Costner.  This is the emotional core of the film, and for the most part, works well.  They have this big talk at the end that is very well written, but it’s one of those Sorkin moments where he has to show how clever he is at the way the conversation is constructed, and it distracts from the real meat of their talk.

While the court decision at the end seemed a little absurd, to be fair, if that’s what happened, that’s happened.  It was more so a problem with the Judge’s speech, which was way too heavy-handed.

While the movie has definite problems, this was a resounding success as Sorkin’s first directed feature.  Hopefully, he’ll learn to edit himself in future projects, although at this point, he is who he is.  At the end of the day, this is a thoroughly entertaining movie with great writing and acting, and to Sorkin’s credit, he bookends the movie beautifully.

If you worship the ground of Aaron Sorkin, you will love this movie.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

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