by Alan Yudman
There is little doubt that Aaron Sorkin is among the best screenwriters. But he’s never directed a movie. Until now. Sorkin makes his directorial debut with MOLLY’S GAME. And it mostly works.
Jessica Chastain is Molly Bloom, a former champion moguls skier who is forced to retired after injury. Her plan is to go to law school. She moves to Los Angeles and in need of a job hooks up with a connected guy who runs a back room poker game. She realizes she has an affinity for running the games and a natural camaraderie with the players. She eventually moves on and runs her own high stakes game. Molly is too trusting and that causes her to lose the L.A. game and she moves to New York where she starts over. There are much shadier characters involved and eventually she starts skimming money for herself. That’s where she bumps up agains federal law. Who knew it was legal to run a poker game as long as you didn’t take a piece of the pot. That’s where she got in trouble with the feds.
But this isn’t only about the poker games. In flashbacks we see she was always a rebellious child, testing her demanding father (Kevin Costner) and growing to hate him for pushing her. Side note, her brother is Jeremy Bloom, former Olympic champion who also had a short NFL with the Eagles and Steelers. Molly is kind of out on an island by herself. She has no “muscle” to collect on outstanding debts. The stress has forced her to start taking drugs. It all is going quite sideways when the Feds finally arrest her.
Chastain is fabulous. It’s a great part for her and she is a natural for Sorkin’s rapid fire dialogue. She has to carry the movie and it rests easy on her shoulders. Idris Elba plays her lawyer. Man, he is just a great actor. In everything. Even bad movies, he’s the shining light. The Sorkin banter between him and Chastain feels organic, even if the style can seem a bit stilted. MIchael Cera also has a great small role as an anonymous Hollywood actor who plays in Chastain’s game. He’s got a darkness in this role that I don’t know that I’ve ever seen from him.
The script is fabulous. I am biased. I love everything Sorkin writes. I’m envious, jealous and in awe all at the same time. But his directing… well, let’s just say that is a work in progress. His sometimes word heavy dialogue needs some kind of balance from the director. But you don’t get that here. It’s most annoying in the opening scenes of the movie where Chastain is skiing and explaining everything and well, I didn’t get lost but it was a lot of sensory input. When he doesn’t attempt to imprint a style on the direction is when it works best. The movie is also a little long.. could have lost about 20 minutes. Some may not like the emotional payoff between Molly and her father, but it worked for me. I got choked up. Maybe I”m getting soft.
Sorkin’s writing is a sure thing. The directing right now feels a little like he’s bluffing with a pair of 3’s. But sometimes the guy with the worst cards wins the pot. And in this case, MOLLY’S GAME is a safe bet.