Poker doesn’t faze writer-director Aaron Sorkin in his directorial debut Molly’s Game.
There was a period of time where Sundays at the Cahlamer Household was dedicated to Texas Hold ‘em poker. We never bet for real money, but the chips had value and the stakes were just as real as if we’d been in a real casino. You learn about people playing poker because the game is about the person sitting across the table from you, not the cards in your hand. As the stakes get higher, so does the risk.
Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game takes this concept to the next level. Featuring Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom, we find that she is wanted by the Feds for illegal gambling. Sorkin uses the Molly character to offer pertinent details about her upbringing. She is an exceptionally smart and talented character who likes to live on the edge.
In her current predicament, Molly engages the services of Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) to defend her against the charges. We learn that she’s written a book detailing the gambling dens she established in Hollywood and in New York City which attracted the elite, the wealthy and the powerful. Oh, and the Russian Mob.
Sorkin’s script, based on the novel Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker by the real life Molly Bloom is all about the risk Molly took to protect the names of her clients. Throughout the story, we meet several of her clients, including Michael Cera as Client X, Brian d’Arcy James as Brad, J. C. MacKenzie as Harrison Wellstone, Bill Camp as Harlan Eustice and Jeremy Strong as Dean Keith, the L.A. real estate agent who brings Molly into the world of underground poker. Each of the players and even Keith have their hang ups, their ‘tells’ in the game of poker and it is fun to watch the characters all unravel.
What is interesting about the character of Molly is that she knew nothing about Poker, but had all the right instincts and built an underground poker empire. Molly is a very driven character and Chastain plays that angle to the extreme, compliments of her psychologist father, Larry, played by Kevin Costner. Costner’s understated approach is a nice foil for Chastain’s exuberant Molly, but it’s very easy to see the psychological damage her childhood had on her adult personae. This relationship is very much a Sorkin moment, something we’ve seen many times, but we appreciate nevertheless.
Another signature Sorkin moment is when Jaffey and Molly first appear before the magistrate to answer the charges. In the sequence, Jaffey and Molly are separated by one of Jaffey’s paralegals as they discuss Jaffey’s role in answering the charges. Jaffey would switch places with his paralegal, have a conversation with Molly and then switch places again. This happened a few times before their conversation got to a point where they just needed to have a more direct conversation. It is here where we learn about the type of person Jaffey is and we recognize that there is more to this story than Molly has let on about. Sorkin’s set ups for this sequence are among the best I’ve seen this year: they’re static in terms of character placement, but even with the limited movement, something is always happening.
Ms. Chastain continues to play hardened female protagonists where there’s more than meets the eye, and I like that. We saw it last year with Miss Sloane and we see it here again. I’d love to see her play a role similar to the vindictive Poppy character Julianne Moore played in Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle earlier this year.
If Molly’s Game is indicative of the types of films Aaron Sorkin will direct, he has a brilliant future as a feature director. Ms. Chastain’s veneer adds a polish to any project she’s attached to and her performance here is no exception.
Opening in limited release on Christmas Day and expanding in January, Molly’s Game is rated R by the MPAA.