Written and directed by one of the hottest screenwriters of the past two decades, Molly’s Game is an explosive, fast-paced drama that seeks to uncover the truth about Molly Bloom. The self-styled “Princess of Poker”, Bloom sought to gain vast sums of money by running illegal poker games in L.A and New York, enticing some of America’s wealthiest celebrities to pitch in along the way.
Credited as the creative influence behind hits such as Steve Jobs, The Social Network and A Few Good Men, Aaron Sorkin has produced another excellent slice of cinematic entertainment, compelling and engaging on an emotional level. In his directorial debut, Sorkin elicits fantastic performances from both Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba who play the lead characters in the film. Chastain provides a performance that is both understated and powerful, brittle yet emotionally charged. Her portrayal is that of a strong, determined woman, who stands by her own set of moral standards and refuses to bow to unjust governmental demands. Her ability to convey such a range of emotions — which stem from the traumatic events Molly has been forced to endure — creates necessary empathy for our protagonist.
Elba, meanwhile, makes the most of his role as Molly’s firm-yet-fair attorney, Charlie Jaffey, a tough man who prides himself on a disciplined, uncompromising outlook on life. Jaffey’s sympathies gravitate closer towards those of his client as the film progresses; Elba’s portrayal of Jaffey’s devastating defence of his client, imploring his opponents to ‘do the right thing’, lends the scene emotional gravity and ensures that more than a few tears will be shed when you watch it. Jaffey also reveals a softer and more compassionate nature in his dealings with his young daughter, endowing the character with a more complex emotional nuance.
Special mention must be reserved for the presence of Kevin Costner in the role of Molly’s demanding, controlling father. Born into a family of extreme over-achievers, Molly’s struggles for approval, including competing with her world champion skier brother for her father’s attention, is a theme which is revisited frequently as the film builds towards its conclusion. The relationship between Molly and her father, and the impact it has on her decision to enter the world of high-stakes poker, is finely drawn out, benefiting in no small part by the terrific input of Costner, playing up a gruff and unruly demeanour.
The film thunders along at a tremendous pace, keeping you constantly engaged with the film’s action and trying to anticipate all the main players’ next moves. The dialogue can also be said to fizz but perhaps there is too much uncontrolled carbonation. For it is one thing to have your characters trade witty remarks, but applying this same feature to almost every individual? The end result is wearing, and even the staunchest of Sorkin’s supporters may yet tire of these seemingly endless motor-mouthed exchanges.
Emerging when the role of women amongst Hollywood’s powerful men has never been under quite so much scrutiny, the film makes some feeble attempts to empower Molly Bloom; yet Molly is the only woman at the very centre of America’s elite boys club, with games run exclusively for the needs and desires of men. Were there other powerful and rich female poker players? There may not have been, but this does not detract from the fact that the film fails to deliver on the sexual politics of the game.
Overall, Sorkin has managed to produce a film which sparkles with glitz and glamour. This is a story of one woman determined to capitalize on the financial negligence of America’s elite, and it unfolds in mesmerising fashion. But will that change things? The stakes have never been higher.