Aaron Sorkin has been writing some of the best movies in Hollywood for the past couple of decades. With Molly’s Game, the heralded screenwriter makes the jump to director for the first time. With the help of Hollywood’s best redhead, Jessica Chastain, along with the likes of Idris Elba and Kevin Costner, he’s managed to make the jump rather successfully. Even if you don’t know a damn thing about poker this is an absolutely encapsulating real-life story that’s far too entertaining to pass up.
Molly’s Game, based on the book of the same name, tells the true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain); a beautiful, young, skier whose Olympic hopes are dashed after a rather serious accident. So what does a young, gifted athlete such as this do instead? Run the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game for a decade before being arrested in the middle of the night by a grip of heavily-armed FBI agents. The players in her high-stakes game included Hollywood royalty, sports stars, business titans and even members of the Russian mob. In the midst of her arrest, her only ally is her lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), who has to try and sort out the real person, versus the one painted in the public eye by the tabloids.
Aaron Sorkin has spent his entire career writing movies for some incredibly talented directors. He’s clearly been paying attention to what those directors do in order to craft an excellent movie over the years, because he’s flawlessly managed to turn into a fine director himself. Molly’s Game feels like a movie he wrote, there’s no question about that. People don’t talk the way that Sorkin writes, but that’s part of the charm of his craft. It’s very cinematic and can turn a few people talking in a room into something much more exhilarating. With Sorkin totally in control as a writer and a director, this thing speeds down the tracks like a perfectly paced summer blockbuster. Yet, we’re watching a behind-the-scenes legal drama and people playing poker in equal parts. It’s pretty impressive.
Similar to what Aaron Sorkin was able to do in writing The Social Network and Steve Jobs, the guy knows how to make a real-life story absolutely gripping and entertaining. These stories are interesting in the first place, but there’s something about the way in which he’s able to present these stories as movies that works so well. Molly’s Game differs from those movies in that it’s a slightly more accessible story in some ways. It’s very broadly entertaining. Not to say that The Social Network isn’t entertaining, but it’s a different beast. This movie feels more like watching the World Series of Poker, but with drugs, jokes and debauchery, all while operating in the grey areas of the legal system.
Sure, a poker game with famous and powerful people in it being run by a fascinating person is a good enough hook, but what makes this movie work, and really what makes the story of Molly’s Game so interesting in the first place is Molly. Sorkin hangs this entire movie on the person as opposed to the poker and he cast the perfect person to make it work at the highest possible level. Jessica Chastain has been asserting herself as one of the finest actresses working in the business in recent years and this may be her finest performance to date. No question, this is an Oscar-worthy turn for Chastain. And, as he always is, Idris Elba is excellent. Need say no more. There’s also a nice role for Kevin Costner in here as Molly’s demanding and complicated father. It’s nice to see him in a good movie again. Michael Cera is also worthy of a shout out for his role in the flick. He just gets to have a good time and it really shows.
Molly’s Game is pretty much a success on every level. It’s wholly entertaining, perfectly paced and feels like a complete story. There’s no frustrating loose ends or a lingering sense, “But what happens next?” Outstanding performances, outstanding writing and outstanding direction. This may not be the best movie of the year, but damned if it isn’t one of the most likable movies of the year. STX gambled big on Aaron Sorkin and won in a big way.