Molly’s Game (2017)
Release Date: December 25th, 2017 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Aaron Sorkin Actors: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, Bill Camp, Angela Gots, Natalie Krill, Stephanie Herfield, Madison McKinley
hat’s the worst thing that could happen in sports? Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) considers this question after she spends 16 years being coached by the best in the world to compete for a spot on the Winter Olympics in women’s moguls – only to wipe out, hard, thanks to a one-in-a-million chance when one of her skis detaches during a flip. This leads to a severe injury, made worse by her prior condition of rapid onset scoliosis as a child, which required spinal surgery. And then, 12 years later, the FBI threatens to burst through her front door.
Since Bloom narrates, the timeline jumps all over the place, pointlessly, as if to keep an unsatisfactorily plain story faster paced. But before it can be determined how plain the story might be, it gets rapidly embroiled in narration so heavy with wordy exposition and minute details that it’s difficult to sort out or comprehend all the commentary. She barely stops to take a breath, and the scenes cut at such a high speed that the various events and monologues seem to pass in the blink of an eye.
The plot shifts back to Los Angeles, where Molly attempts to sort out her life after her accident on the slopes. She sleeps on a friend’s couch, takes up a job as a waitress at a club, and doubles as an office secretary for Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong), where she learns a lot about poker and the powerful Hollywood-type people who engage in high-stakes games. The timeline switches back yet again to her arraignment, after Bloom ran poker games for eight years, gained the moniker “poker princess,” and denies knowing all the Russian mobsters who were arrested alongside her (31 notable people, in fact). And she desperately needs the help of lawyer Charles Jaffey (Idris Elba) – a respectable man who will need plenty of convincing to take on her sordid case.
As a strong, confident, self-made, street-smart, school-smart, entrepreneurial woman, Chastain’s Bloom is a delight to watch. She’s sympathetic even when she’s breaking the law – perhaps primarily because she’s an underdog, she’s quick-witted, and she’s conniving. And Elba is sharp and competent as well. Intelligence is a surefire enticement for cinematic personas. But writer/director Aaron Sorkin seems to be intent on ruining the natural allure and brilliancy of these characters and this tale (and all his skill with scripting them to be so bright and brainy) with his predilection for keeping things moving at a breakneck pace. The back-and-forth storytelling and the snappy editing just aren’t necessary, but there they are, always assaulting the senses. “I promise you, it couldn’t matter less,” she comments in court, as if speaking about so many of the elucidations and embellishments and stylizations that pepper – and plague – the narrative.
Despite the irritating editing choices, it’s difficult to dismiss the design of the characters – and the exceptional performances by Chastain and Elba. Sorkin has made shady players, loathsome opportunists, outright criminals, and pedantic lawyers rather fascinating components of a historical and biographical drama that feels more like a political thriller or heist film than a picture about a greedy, drug-addicted gambling hostess. Just like in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” excess and debauchery and risk-taking are fun and funny and entertaining; the ugly truth, however, though seen on rare occasions, is mostly absent. Some questionable parenting, an emotional therapy session (perhaps the best scene in the film), impassioned speeches and arguments, and a sensational (or sensationalized) finale (which might raise questions about her race, lineage, and her prejudicial affluence) round out what would have been a far more spectacular work if it had not been artistically over-edited – and if it had not been based on a real person (especially since the casting choices didn’t bother with mimicking the real people in appearances or mannerisms or ages).
– Mike Massie