Molly's Game

MOLLY’S GAME. Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Chris O’ Dowd and Brian d’Arcy James. Directed by Aaron Sorkin. Rated M (Mature themes, violence and coarse language). 140 min.

This American biographical crime-drama is based loosely on the story of Molly Bloom who moved from Olympic-class skiing to running the world’s most exclusive high-stake poker game in the early 2000s in the USA. The film is inspired by the 2014 memoir, “Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite To Wall Street’s Billionaire Boy’s Club, My High-Stake Adventure in the World of Underground Poker”, written by Molly Bloom.  Jessica Chastain was nominated for Best Actress at the 75th. Golden Globe Awards for the leading role of Molly in the movie of the book.

Molly, as a young woman, was headed for sporting glory when a tragic accident ended her sporting career. Assertive, highly motivated and argumentative, she created, as an adult, an underground poker-empire for Hollywood celebrities, business tycoons, movie stars, famous athletes, and Russian mobsters. She ran her clubs in Los Angeles and New York City for almost a decade before being arrested by 17 members of the FBI who stormed her apartment in New York City, wielding automatic weapons.

Following her arrest, Molly used Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) as her lawyer to clear her name, and to prove to the world that playing poker for big money was not illegal. Admitting to what she did, she claimed that she knew nothing of the mobster-identity of the Russians who frequented her clubs.

The film is structured in two parts, and frequently moves from one to the other.  The first part shows Molly engaging with her would-be lawyer after being arrested by the FBI. The second part depicts her falling from grace under the punishing gaze of her demanding, and conflicted psychologist coach and father (Kevin Costner), who eventually stands by her side in court. 

Unable to compete with her accomplished brothers, Molly found that the quickest route to influence came through the game of poker, a culture she grew to understand thoroughly. Brian d’Arcy James gives an engaging performance as a poker-player who happens to be a terrible card player, and Chris O’Dowd delivers convincingly an alcoholic poker-player for whom Molly feels  sorry. Throughout the film, Molly wittily highlights the weaknesses of the men, who play her game.

Both Chastain, Elba and the various cameo-characters bring tremendous energy to an intriguing plot-line that exactly captures the addictive gambling nature of the culture that Molly knowingly reinforces. The script, under Aaron Sorkin’s controlled direction, creates an amazingly authentic-looking gambling world. Chastain narrates the movie from the perspective of Molly Bloom. Her performance is intelligent and arresting, and she dramatically depicts a vibrant and courageous woman who develops and learns to maintain an established identity for herself against the odds.

The film shows Molly existing in a world populated by powerful, influential men - which gives the film considerable contemporary relevance, and it is directed by Sorkin to portray Molly’s character in an intimate and revealing way. Sorkin, however, fails to suggest any solution to the culture that he is depicting. The film is more a compelling story of high-stake gambling where men have the upper hand, but it shows effectively the nature of their addictive manipulations. At its core, the film is a celebration of one woman’s empowerment to maintain a personal identity in a male-corrupt world, and in that role, Jessica Chastain shines as Molly Bloom.

The film is sharp, insightful, and character-driven, and it is scripted especially well to show the trials and tribulations of people (including Molly Bloom) who compromise themselves in the  pursuit of wealth from gambling. In the film, Sorkin finally gives Molly Bloom the winning hand. Molly might look at times that she is losing, but Chastain never loses control of the character that she is depicting, and Sorkin concludes the film by dealing her a winning set of cards.

Peter W. Sheehan is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Entertainment One Films

Released February 1st., 2018

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