ReelBob: ‘Molly’s Game’ ★★★
By Bob Bloom
Writer Aaron Sorkin has an ace up his sleeve for his directorial debut: Jessica Chastain.
The versatile actress wears a skin of pragmatism and defiance as Olympic-class skier Molly Bloom in “Molly’s Game.”
The movie, adapted by Sorkin from Bloom’s book, tells the story of Bloom’s success at running underground poker games about a decade ago in Los Angeles and New York that netted players — and herself — hundreds of thousands of dollars, until she was arrested by the FBI on illegal gambling charges.
It seems her popular high-stakes games did not only attract movie stars, business tycoons, athletes and high rollers, but Russian mobsters as well.
The combination of Sorkin’s writing and Chastain’s acting creates a perfect mesh of dialogue that sizzles and impresses.
Through Sorkin’s script and direction, you can almost see Bloom’s mind working in overdrive, having answers for every question thrown at her by criminal defense lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), whom Bloom is trying to convince to represent her.
Chastain’s performance reveals a complex personality — an observant woman with a computer-like mind, determined to succeed on her own in an arena — albeit, a legally grey-area — mostly reserved for men.
She also allows you inside Bloom, peeling away her icy veneer, so you can see the vulnerability and emotional baggage that drives her.
Chastain showcases Bloom’s ability to successfully read people and quickly adapt to each new situation.
The movie’s main question is why should we care about Bloom and her legal woes.
The answer, unfortunately, is a bit of a letdown. It’s an almost-clichéd setup unworthy of Sorkin’s talents, even if based on the truth.
The most interesting sequences of “Molly’s Game” are watching the verbal tennis match between Bloom and Jaffey, as she pushes the lawyer to represent her, while he keeps probing, working hard to pull answers from his reticent sparring partner.
Sorkin’s direction, as Molly describes the various nuances of the poker games and the players, makes the various hands intriguing.
Players will appreciate the attention to detail, while novices may learn a few things about the game.
Sorkin’s directing debut is a strong hand. The finale is also a bit of a letdown, considering all the effort Sorkin, Chastain, Elba and others put in building up to it.
Still, “Molly’s Game” is a scintillating exposé of a world very few of us know about or have visited.
That it features two very strong and sharp performances is having an ice in the hole.
I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). I also review Blu-rays and DVDs. I can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to my reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
3 stars out of 4
(R), language, violence, drug content