“Molly’s Game” Movie Review


     Aaron Sorkin has excelled to such a prestigious level in screenwriting that many refer to his style of dialogue as being “Sorkiny”.  What one would be referencing with such a term would be the kind of rapid fire verbal exchanges between characters where their actions are defined by the power of the words they are speaking, rather than the physical actions they may be acting out on screen.  In Sorkin’s world, the character with the sharpest, most quick witted tongue wins the battle every time.  Perhaps you know his work.  If at any time in the last twenty five years you have quoted Jack Nickolson’s Colonel Jessep and his line from “A Few Good Men” in which he blares out “You can’t handle the truth!!”, then you have indeed quoted Sorkin as well, who began his screenwriting career adapting “A Few Good Men” (1992) from his own stage play.  Sorkin would go on to win an Oscar for his adaptation of “The Social Network” (2010), as well as a nomination in 2011 for adapting the screenplay for “Moneyball”, where among his many other credits, the punchy, machine gun like dialogue he had become famous for finally became notable by the simple utterance of his name.

     Now helming his first feature as a director, it should be no surprise that “Molly’s Game” may be the ultimate Sorkin film.  One where he not only supplies the words, but also the vision as well, giving audiences a finely detailed and unprecedented biographical look at former skier, turned poker princess, Molly Bloom.  The result here is so good, I have to believe it will serve as a sort of template Sorkin will use in future films to filter various subject matter through in much the same way all of the great directors have.  Just as any cinephile worth their popcorn could identify the work of Hitchcock, Scorsese, or Spielberg, it won’t be long before a Sorkin film will be as easily spotted as his signature dialogue.

     Sorkin’s adaptation of Bloom’s book is backed by fantastic performances by Jessica Chastain as the title character and Idris Elba as the reluctant attorney hired to argue on her behalf.  As a character study, Bloom is as interesting a person as one could be and certainly justifies Sorkin’s interest in the project.  The first sequence details her time as an Olympic hopeful, perfecting her skills as a downhill mogul skier and the intricate details that separate a champion from an also ran.  She comes from a successful family in which her father, Larry (Kevin Costner), is a noted psychologist and her older brothers are highly ranked skiers who go on to become renowned medical professionals as well.  

     Early scenes shown at the dinner table indicate a rebellious teen who claws back at her father’s rigid and disciplined demeanor.  If you’ve read tennis player Andre Agassi’s book “Open”, than you already have an idea as to the pressures Bloom’s father consistently put on her in order to maximize the potential he saw.  This kind of mental tug of war between them is clearly demonstrated when an exhausted teenage Bloom is asked by her father for a synonym to the word “tired” when she wanted to stop training for the day.  When her response is “weak”, she already knows walking her skis back up the hill for another run is the only way her father will be satisfied.

     Years later, a freak accident leads to the end of Bloom’s Olympic dream, leaving her unsure of what to do next.  She ends up in Los Angeles working at a high end night club doing bottle service and ultimately meeting the kind of Hollywood insiders who can change your life with a simple phone call.  Bloom had the good looks, but was also appealing in the smart way in which she conversed and related to people.  In every interaction, she always seems to have the knack for coming out on top without making an enemy.  Her talents in that area lead to a job as a personal assistant to the head of a Hollywood production company named Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong), an arrogant and self centered type who today would likely have been at the center of the ongoing sexual harassment controversy plaguing the industry.  And who knows? Maybe he is, since Sorkin has concealed the identities of the A-list actors, bankers, moguls, and sports stars who regularly crossed paths with Bloom at her next regular gig.

     Something that began as one of her duties with Keith, turns into a full on legal business, as Bloom created the ultimate underground poker game held in swanky hotel suites in both Los Angeles and New York.  The games featured buy ins up to $250 thousand and became the place to be seen amongst the very rich and powerful who were looking to blow off steam and fan their competitive flames outside of the traditional public forum where their every move would be scrutinized.  Though Sorkin never mentions them, Bloom’s book actually names Ben Affleck, Tobey Maguire, and Leonardo DiCaprio as regulars at her games, and we are meant to believe there many more whose behavior might have left a black eye on their reputations had they been mentioned as well.

     “Molly’s Game” is centered on the present in which Bloom finds herself as the target of an indictment and a crime web that includes the mob.  Many of the scenes find Bloom and her attorney, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), discussing the particulars of the case as the film flashes back several years to when the poker games took place and just how some of these various characters got involved.  And even though there is plenty to like in the flash back scenes, the back and forth banter between Bloom and Jaffey is what builds the foundation of the rest of the film.  Both Chastain and Elba deliver some of the best work of their careers.  But all films start with a screenplay, and Sorkin provides the kind of  razor sharp conversational fireworks you would expect from him, and this time he acts as the composer of it all as well.  “Molly’s Game” is one of the best films of the year, sparkling with endlessly entertaining uses of the spoken word provided by a writer and director at the top of his game.  GRADE: A