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.