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Review: Molly’s Game

December 24, 2017

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The directorial debut of master screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, Molly’s Game dramatizes the true story of “poker princess” Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain).  Molly is a professional skier whose athletic career falls apart after suffering a freak accident at the Olympics, to the disappointment of her father (Kevin Costner), who raised her to be an overachiever.

She ends up working for the sleazy real estate agent Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong) in Los Angeles, helping organize his weekly underground poker games, where celebrities go to play and hundreds of thousands of dollars change hands.  When Molly realizes that she might get screwed over, she decides to start running the games herself, making herself rich but also coming into contact with people that put her under investigation by the FBI, leaving her to rely on the help of lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) to protect her in court.

The film is almost relentlessly wordy – pretty much the entirety of Molly’s skiing career is packed into the breathlessly paced, voiceover-rich opening prologue – and it also lacks some of the directorial verve and vision that filmmakers like David Fincher and Danny Boyle used to bring to Aaron Sorkin’s work to the big screen in The Social Network and Steve Jobs respectively.  But Molly’s Game is still a thoroughly entertaining good time, that often coasts by on the strength of its writing and the eminent watchability of its performances.

The screenplay crackles with Aaron Sorkin’s sharp dialogue, jumping back and forth in time between the poker games and criminal investigation, to pull together all the strands of this story.  Jessica Chastain does great work here, brilliantly portraying Molly’s independent-minded entrepreneurial spirit and fierce drive to come out on top, even when skirting the edge of the law.  She is backed up by a great supporting cast, including memorable work from Idris Elba, who exchanges legal arguments and delivers his character’s monologues with aplomb.

The film moves at a fast pace despite running for 141 minutes, playing with wall to wall wordplay that keeps us engaged every step of the way, and shedding insight into the game even for those of us who don’t know much about poker.  The look of the film is slick and appealing, with some stylish editing choices that keep it all feeling tight.  This is Aaron Sorkin’s game as much as it is Jessica Chastain’s game, and his dialogue coupled with her performance make the very entertaining Molly’s Game a blast to watch.

A version of this review was originally published during the Toronto International Film Festival.

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