By Daniel Howat
Equal parts biopic, poker film, and cautionary tale, with plenty of glamour mixed in, Molly’s Game deals a winning hand.
Molly Bloom’s wild story is a perfect match for Aaron Sorkin’s lightning-fast dialogue and trademark wit. It’s a larger than life, shocking tale - so shocking that she can’t even reveal the details to begging publishers.
Opening with a frenetic and tragic ski run, we see the life that Molly thought she was meant for. Losing out on her champion potential, she moves to LA to try and figure out her life. While working at a bar she meets Dean, who hires her as his assistant. Quickly he gives her control of his high stakes poker game. He’s got some rich friends, and plenty of famous ones too.
Before long, Molly’s shows her determination and skill. The film does a great job at showing how dedicated she was to be the best at what she does. We see nothing about any life Molly may have had outside of the game, presumably because no such thing existed. She eventually becomes too good to be stuck underneath Dean and starts her own game, taking his high rollers with her.
The film is told largely in three intercut stories: Molly as a teen, Molly as a poker entrepreneur, and Molly as a defendant. These three eras are blended together beautifully, with each story revealing important truths about past, present, and future Molly. Jessica Chastain is electric and assured in the role, wielding bravado when she’s building her gambling reputation, and vulnerability when she’s scraping her life back together.
Molly’s Game benefits from an endlessly interesting story. The glamour and intrigue, the high profile actors, athletes, and businessmen dropping millions in a night. It’s fascinating watching Molly build her empire. It’s also fascinating watching her lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) try to pull the story out of her. They make a great pair, going back and forth with their “Sorkian” one-liners.
There’s a slew of other fantastic supporting players here as well. Chris O’Dowd as the sad drunk. Joe Kerry as the risky trust-fund kid. Brian d’Arcy James as the hilarious “Bad Brad”. And Michael Cera is surprisingly intimidating as the famous “Player X”. Molly’s in no hurry to give almost any real names, but I was filled with curiosity with each new character.
In his directorial debut, Sorkin handles the breakneck pace perfectly, never letting the audience fall behind as she’s rising to the top of the poker world. He holds us in the palm of his hand as we traverse the story of Molly’s life. Naturally, it’s easier to have more fun watching Molly’s rise than her downfall. That’s where we start to really feel the film’s long runtime. The pace slows down as Molly reconciles the consequences of her game, her fear of the future, and her issues with her dad. Some of these moments work, and some can be a little clunky.
The story often plays like a cautionary tale, showing us how the game could ruin lives and destroy futures. Still, the “caution” in the tale is a little outweighed by the sheer glamour of the lifestyle. It’s an inherently weird blend, showing how Molly raked in the money and brushed elbows with the rich and famous, but it’s a dangerous way to get there.
This film is gripping and absorbing. Molly’s a captivating subject, and Chastain does a wonderful job of showing all of her layers. Sorkin shows us the humanity in each and every character, never letting us forget that this really happened. It may be a crazy story, but it’s never unbelievable.
Molly's Game is a highly enjoyable biopic with fantastic performances. This is certainly worth seeing in theaters.
Final Rating: 8/10