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Monday, Jan. 8, 2018 01:52 pm

Compelling "Molly’s Game" Seems Incomplete

More martyr than manipulator, Molly Bloom comes off as a fall gal for the rich and famous in Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut Molly’s Game, a true-life tale of high rollers, lowlifes, movie stars and other untrustworthy sort who get called on the table when they all get involved in the titular weekly poker match.  As the film is based on Bloom’s best-selling account of her rise and fall, the fact that we are dealing with an unreliable narrator will likely cross the minds of astute viewers as our heroine comes off not simply as a victim but a saint as the story plays out, a perspective that can’t help but be slightly skewed resulting in a manipulative yet fascinating movie.

Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) oversees a high-stakes poker game in Molly's Game.
A STX Entertainment Release

Bloom’s (Jessica Chastain) story is told through multiple flashbacks and fragments, which results in three separate storylines.  We witness her being pushed by her domineering father (Kevin Costner) to succeed in Olympic-level skiing, watch her establish a weekly high-stakes poker game in Hollywood and have it wrested away from her only so that she might create a bigger operation in New York City and see her deal with the indictment that falls in her lap when the FBI comes calling with charges of tax evasion and myriad other infractions.   

Sorkin is a natural behind the camera, his directorial and writing styles perfectly complimenting the other so that we have a witty, slickly made movie in which he dispenses with a great deal of exposition in an entertaining and invigorating manner. He knows he has a fascinating story on his hands and is providing viewers with a behind-the–curtain look at a lifestyle that’s hard to imagine. He relates all of the juicy details with a slick confident manner and pace that you can’t help but get swept away by.

However, Sorkin can’t keep up this pace over the course of the film and it begins to flag at the end. Still, Bloom as well as the movie’s assorted cheaters, addicts, mobsters and colorful folks keep us interested throughout.  Bill Camp as a self-destructive gambler is a stand out as is Chris O’Dowd as a loser in love with Molly, while Michael Cera as a composite of Leonardo Di Caprio and Tobey Maguire, convincingly pulls off a dark turn that’s wholly unexpected.  Screen veterans Idris Elba, as Bloom’s attorney, and Costner ground any scene they’re in, the former doing wonderful work in a thankless job, dispensing with the legal exposition that keeps the viewer in the know, while the latter steals a scene late in the film in which father and daughter lay all their cards on the table and have a heart-to-heart that should have occurred years earlier.

Molly Bloom and her lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) appear before the bar in Molly's Game.
A STX Entertainment Release

Chastain is strong throughout, giving us a defiant woman who is far more lost than she realizes.  Through Sorkin and Bloom’s eyes, she’s presented as a woman who had no choice but to take power when she could in order to topple the men who ruled over her.  This sort of empowerment isn’t entirely false but the notion that Bloom was more heroine than enabler, throwing herself on her sword to protect her clients’ secrets is a little hard to take.  While I have no doubt these things occurred, I can’t help but think that we’re not getting the whole story where her operation is concerned.  Then again, the House always stacks the deck, so I suppose I shouldn’t be completely surprised.    

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