Molly's Game review Jessica ChastainYear: 2017
Director(s): Aaron Sorkin
Writer(s): Aaron Sorkin, Molly Bloom
Region of Origin: US

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Color, 140 mins

Synopsis: The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target. (Source)

There are biopics, and then there are Aaron Sorkin biopics. As far as I’m concerned, Sorkin is the king of adapting real life, knowing what to embellish and what facts to punch up. What Sorkin does best, is hone in on the ideas and obsession that define his characters. As it turns out, self-made poker queen Molly Bloom’s story is a perfect fit for the writer/director’s heady character work, building on a tide of female empowerment and delivering a wholly entertaining whirlwind of a film. Finally taking command of his own writing, Sorkin’s first attempt at the directing also proves to be a natural progression, taking his rhythmic prose and imbuing it with a relentless style and energy that’s unmistakably unique. Together with Jessica Chastain’s ferocity, Molly’s Game is an engrossing tale of risk, reward and survival.

Things kick off with a dramatic raid. The FBI’s target is a woman named Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain). Through measured narration and zig-zagging narrative trickery, the film shows us how this once Olympic-class skier became a self-made millionaire, and then, someone on the FBI’s wanted list. After a massive wipeout on the slopes, Bloom would walk away from her sport, move to Los Angeles, put off law school, then work as an assistant to a shady Hollywood-type until tasked with heading an elite, weekly poker game. As it turned out, these secret games would feature the richest of the rich, celebs, gambling addicts, etc. After immersing herself into the game and culture, she’d eventually win over the trust of these players, snatching them from her dubious employer after he tries to cut her out of her wages. Weathering a world of sharks, Bloom would unwittingly become tied to the Russian mob, finally tasked with clearing her name while staunching shielding the identities of those who trust her anonymity.

From front to back, Sorkin’s film is a mile-a-minute character portrait that’s aggressive, engrossing and impossible to look away from. Rather than drown us into a procedural legal battle, Sorkin dives deep into Bloom’s past and present, exploring the points at which they converge and splinter. By unhinging narrative from traditional linear structure, Sorkin slowly chips away at Bloom’s inner strengths and unsaid fears, chronicling a rough upbringing, demanding father and her own thirst to carve out a singular niche. Sorkin handles the complexity of Bloom’s struggles like a master magician, gradually sharpening her resolve through a precise command of personal stakes and tension. The film is ultimately an intimate story, but told with broad implications, bringing to life a woman who could never settle for her own second best, constantly trying to edge psychological turmoil by commanding and crafting her own fate.

Molly's Game review Jessica Chastain Idris Elba Aaron SorkinIf Sorkin’s writing is a cocked rifle, then Chastain’s performance is the armor-piercing ammo. Chastain excels in the role, a personification of raw conviction and wry wit who can dominate everything around her, or bide her time while waiting for the right moment to pounce. There’s a lot of subtlety to Chastain’s performance, who, frankly gives Sorkin’s clockwork-esque dialogue a warmth and empathy. Honestly, Chastain was born for this, helping Bloom to show up her male-dominated counterpoints with ease. Speaking of the men, Idris Elba’s understanding attorney, Jaffey, is as charismatic as ever, lending the film an audience surrogate who feels fleshed out and is a joy to watch. Michael Cera is savage as an unnamed character only known as Player X, while Kevin Costner serves as Molly’s father, Larry, in a small but powerfully pivotal role.

Molly’s Game is pulsing with an invigorating sense of purpose and power, showcasing one woman’s fight to outwit her opponents in a way that is rightfully nuanced. Unlike most biopics, which err on the side of sweet sentimentality or overly didactic morals, Sorkin’s depiction is ruthless, celebrating the woman at its center without pulling any punches. For his first film, Sorkin’s directorial debut feels complete and confident, cementing the writer as someone with a unparalleled understanding of the passions, compulsions, addictions and strengths that make us human.