Molly’s Game is an explosive true story with Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba and a script by first-time director Aaron Sorkin. What could possibly go wrong?

Sorkin’s screenplay is based on the memoir of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier with a demanding father (Kevin Costner) who had to set new goals for herself after a disastrous accident. Still driven to succeed, in a different arena, she winds up running a series of high-stakes poker games. Using her sexuality and smarts in equal measure, she rides the crest of a wave and has high-rollers eating from the palm of her hand. But Bloom skirts the law and puts herself at great risk. That’s what lands her in the office of a shrewd attorney (Idris Elba) who tries to figure out the best way to keep her out of prison.

Molly’s Game opens strong with a heart-stopping recreation of its heroine’s experiences on a ski slope. It carries us along as she moves into an unexpectedly lucrative career that plays on wealthy gamblers’ well-known weaknesses. (The film doesn’t name the famous people who participated in her games, as Bloom did in her book.)

The midsection of the film, filled with Sorkinesque rapid-fire dialogue, is so densely packed with jargon and insider moves that I found it hard to follow. Because its characters are cold it’s even more difficult to maintain empathy for Molly as she climbs out onto a dangerous limb.

The third act goes a long way toward redeeming the movie…but not far enough. A moving (and revealing) scene with Molly and her father offers too little too late. By that point I no longer cared what happened to Molly, whose cockiness has served her well professionally but given us little reason to root for her.

This feature marks Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut. He cast his movie well, filling key supporting roles with the likes of Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, Brian D’Arcy James, and Bill Camp. Chastain is always worth watching, and so is Elba, but I wanted more from this film, and Molly’s Game left me dissatisfied.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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April 2024