“Aren’t you Molly Bloom?” a schoolgirl asks Jessica Chastain’s eponymous entrepreneur in Molly’s Game, the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin. That kid is a lot more clued in than I am, as prior to the trailer dropping for Sorkin’s film, I had never heard of Molly Bloom (at least, not this Molly Bloom). Maybe that’s because we have a far more liberal attitude to gambling here in Europe than our puritanical cousins across the pond. Within a two minute walk of where I’m writing this review, there are multiple outlets that will gladly allow me to gamble away my few possessions, but that’s not the case in the US, where having a few friends over for a poker night can land you in jail.
An Olympic class skier whose sporting career was ended with a back injury, Molly Bloom found herself working for an unscrupulous Los Angeles real estate lawyer who roped her into hosting the poker nights he threw for a client list populated by some of the city’s biggest celebs, including an unnamed actor played by Michael Cera who I’m sure isn’t the one we’re all thinking of. When her boss ditches her, Bloom takes the phone numbers of his clients and organizes her own poker nights, with a $50,000 buy-in. Word spreads about her endeavor, and she finds herself playing hostess to some of the world’s richest men (her clientele seems to be exclusively male), and also some of the most dangerous, as various underworld figures look for a piece of her action.
Sorkin is undoubtedly one of the most talented TV writers to ever work in small screen drama, but his film scripts have rarely been as successful, too often over-written and overly reliant on dialogue. Left to his own devices here without a director to reign him in and adapt his writing in cinematic fashion, Sorkin runs amok with his words. I’m struggling to think of a movie that relies on voiceover narration to tell its (relatively simple) story to the extent Molly’s Game does. I could be overestimating, but it felt like 50% of Sorkin’s film was accompanied by narration, much of it completely unnecessary, reiterating the action playing out on screen like it was written with a blind audience in mind. When Chastain isn’t rabbiting on in voiceover, she’s yapping away incessantly.
Sorkin tells us an awful lot about Molly Bloom, but never actually shows us who she is. Chastain is in almost every frame of this excessively long film, but I knew as much about Bloom by the movie’s end as I did before it began. Sorkin is interested only in her achievements, and the deepest insight he can conjure is that she has some Daddy issues relating to her demanding father (Kevin Costner, great in his few scenes). This, folks, is why we need more women filmmakers.
As you might expect from a Sorkin scripted film, the highlights of Molly’s Game involve two people talking in a room - specifically the scenes shared between Chastain and Idris Elba as her lawyer, the latter’s accent once again making several return trips across the Atlantic - suggesting this material and Sorkin’s skills are better suited to a theatrical production. When Sorkin has to get down to the process of storytelling, Molly’s Game becomes yet another second-rate Goodfellas ripoff, a series of repetitive anecdotes that aren’t half as interesting as Sorkin seems to believe.
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Like Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain with biceps swapped out for cleavage, Molly’s Game is a hollow void of a movie, one that dresses up an uninteresting tale with verbal fireworks. Yet I have to admit it never bored me, thanks mainly to the work of Chastain, Costner and Elba, who proves a bad accent can’t ruin a good performance. Sorkin rarely gives them anything of depth to work with - and despite its intemperate dialogue, this is the least quotable Sorkin script ever - but he’s found three actors perfectly suited to his 16 sarcastic lines in 60 seconds style. It’s a shame he couldn’t find a director and an editor willing to kill his darlings.
3 Stars Out Of 5
Directed by: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Chris O’Dowd
originally published: 2017-12-26 16:23:45
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