Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) made a living off the addictions of the world’s most powerful men, and that was after she was an Olympic level skier. Coming from a family of genius minds and DNA gold, Bloom ran the most exclusive poker game for years before it all came crashing down, leading her to adopt the services of Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), “the cleanest attorney in town”. She did us a favor in writing a book that became Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game.
Bloom’s story is a riveting one and a perfect match for Sorkin’s Jedi-styled writing style. This is a rise and fall story juiced up on adderall and steroids, highlighting the luxurious yet dangerous life that one woman led without much brakes or hesitation. Instead of adding fuel to the fiery life of a powerful woman, Sorkin just lets her story do the heavy lifting.
Bloom was an Olympic level athlete before one unfortunate accident ended it all, defeating the high hopes set by a demanding father (Kevin Costner, better than ever), yet setting up a different career that didn’t include boring law school. She broke off a taste for the gambling life with Jeremy Strong’s sleazy Dean Keith before going all in on her own, with the likes of Player X (Michael Cera, rumored to be blending together Tobey Maguire and Ben Affleck here) and several of Hollywood’s elite.
The first half of Molly’s Game is superb, as her kinetic uprising is well documented and Sorkin pours on the entertaining high life of a female power player. The role fits Chastain like a glove, with the actress leaning into Sorkin’s rapid fire dialogue and filling out the physical attributes that Bloom offered. Chastain has played women in power before, but Bloom shows an alternate speed for the talented actress.
Elba is so reliable here, imbuing the courageous Jaffey with just enough gravitas to carry several one on one battles with Chastain. So much of his material is swinging a swagger stick with a loosened tie and tightened morals. Elba has come a long way from Stringer Bell on The Wire, and this might be his best performance on screen. There’s a speech from Elba towards the end where every other actor in the room couldn’t hide the “blown away” expression on their face.
Costner, however, left the biggest dent with me. There are few actors out there that are more comfortable in their own skin than Costner. He is at his best when given a small piece in a big pie, because he can deliver during key sequences. When Costner is the face of the film, he seems to waver. Here, like in Thirteen Days and Man of Steel, the aging well thespian knocks out several key scenes, including one near the climax with Chastain at an ice rink. Larry Bloom wasn’t a perfect man, and Costner isn’t afraid to tap into that.
Sorkin’s directing is solid during his first time out, showing a small flair during scenes, yet knowing how to pull back and let his actors do the hard work. Sometimes, with a story this big and a cast this vast, writers turned directors try to do too much. Sorkin backs off during the final third of the film where things get heavy, and it helps. He’s a writer after all, building worlds for others to play in for the past 20 years.
The real star of this show is Sorkin’s script. The man writes like David Mamet, only better and more precise. There’s so much exposition in this script and narration, but Sorkin’s wicked sharp dialogue never allows it to bog you down. When it comes to hard hitting true stories involving analytics and fast moving chess pieces, Sorkin carries the biggest stick. The Social Network and Moneyball showed the skill: Molly’s Game shows the finishing touch. He doesn’t try to cast Bloom as a reluctant hero or unfortunate victim; he simply tells her story straight up.
Is Molly’s Game too slick for its own good at times? Sure. Is the overall tone of the film uneven in certain areas? Sure. Does the film have an editing problem? Kind of. Does any of this deter you from being wildly entertained? Not a chance. This film has an energy and assertiveness that most films sorely lack. And Chastain is a force of nature.
Molly’s Game is a fast talking, highly entertaining, and a dynamic actors showcase with one of Hollywood’s greatest scribes behind the wheel.
The story of Molly Bloom is more than likely one you haven’t heard of just yet, but will surely savor once you leave the theater.