reviewed by Tom-Tom
Aaron Sorkin, now there’s a guy who knows how to start a story. Whether it’s the breathless first 20 minutes of The Social Network or the heart-stopping and brilliant opening to the HBO show The Newsroom, Sorkin is a wordsmith, able to make rapid fire dialogue with a fierce intensity but calculated intelligence spew out of the mouths of the world’s best actors. Molly’s Game is no different although this time, Sorkin himself is director. If you’re expecting what usually happens when a dialogue heavy writer becomes director, (ahem, recent QT films) fear not. He has learned much from the red carpet parade of directors whom have took on his screenplays: Danny Boyle, David Fincher, Rob Reiner, etc. His editing is just as sharp as his dialogue feeding us well balanced pieces of the backstory and current story effortlessly but clearly eschewing the turgid mess a lesser writer or director could make of it all. Molly Bloom’s story is actually pretty simple the way Steve Jobs’ story was simple in the eponymous film directed by Danny Boyle. She was headed towards a law degree after failing to qualify for the Winter Olympics and learned how to set up and run poker games for which she is currently (in the film’s “present” timeline) standing trial. While the Jobs film relied more on dialogue and linear recounting of events leaving the viewer with a bit of emptiness at the end despite the high-paced build up and slight emotional payoff at the end, (“Did this really need to be filmed?” I remember recounting. Its passionate speeches would have been better served at the theater than on the big screen”), Molly’s Game doesn’t suffer from overfocus on dialogue as there are loads of things to keep our minds and eyes busy while Jessica Chastain laconically does voiceover for her past.
I’d like to take a moment in this review to discuss Michael Cera. I have been amused, annoyed, pissed, and moved by Cera in the various roles he has played down the years but I have never been terrified of him not even in This is the End where he had threesomes and blew cocaine in people’s faces. He is scary in this film if only for a somewhat short appearance. He is an expert poker player with a quiet 1000 yard stare which is equal parts quietly insatiable hunger and inscrutable malice. His short hair is constantly overlong like Garfunkel circa his break with Paul Simon. He doesn’t play to win, he plays to “destroy lives.” This is said with no bravado just in the matter-of-fact way psychopaths think.
The world of poker game running is exciting and high speed and Jessica Chastain is more than up to the task of being in charge. She uses her beauty and charm to her advantage but she is also caring of her clients asking them to stop after losing a few rounds and offering to get them help for gambling. She runs a classy show learning from experience and hiring Playboy Playmates who can make a great drink and remember who likes what. She is constantly bullied by “men in charge” and betrayed by them as well but she herself only ever betrays one person, her intial boss who got her into the racket.
Along the way, she meets the always wonderful Idris Elba playing a lawyer and loving father to a teenage daughter to whom he assigns The Crucible which is probably supposed to be a foil for Molly’s story (but is she to be the tattle-tell girl or the staunch defender?). The exchanges between Molly and her attorney are great from the start. Even Kevin Costner comes out of the backstory as her father to the present for an emotional breakthrough with his daughter likening the denouement of this film to the Jobs flick. As with many of Aaron Sorkin films, watching them is fun more for the experience of watching it: hearing the characters banter back and forth than for any one point you can take away from it. I still like watching Mark Zuckerberg played by Jesse Eisenberg crash the Harvard servers in a single night based on a formula written on the dorm window while drunk and seething about his breakup. I still love to hear Jeff Daniels opine about why America isn’t the best nation in the world in the beginning of the premier episode of The Newsroom. Now I have the pleasure to add Jessica Chastain’s ski mogul attempt to this timeless collection. Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue has a power which is powerful in every cut of his many fine works. I look forward to his future writer/director features.