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USA 2017
Directed by
Aaron Sorkin
140 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Molly's Game

Synopsis: The true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), an Olympic-class skier who ran the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became the target of an FBI investigation.

The chick flick used to be just about shopping and boys. In more recent (post-romantic) times it has rummaged in the gross-out cupboard of women-behaving-badly. Molly’s Game takes it into cocaine-fuelled, high-roller, American Dream Wolf Of Wall Street (2013) territory.

The directorial debut for Sorkin whose credits as an A-list Hollywood screenwriter includes A Few Good Men (1992), The Social Network (2010) and Moneyball (2011) as well as television’s West Wing, the underlying premise of Molly’s Game is that Molly had serious father issues which manifested themselves, as her Dad (Kevin Costner) who appears out of nowhere towards the end of the film, puts it, as a need “to have control over powerful men”.

The film opens well enough by showing us Molly’s first career as a competitive skater, one driven by her pathologically ambitious father (co-incidentally, like ice-skater Tonya Harding’s mother in the newly released I, Tonya). Her rise was cut short by a nasty fall and she decided to study law but slowly drifts into the world of high-stakes gambling. Smart cookie that she is, she rises from being assistant to a low-rent dirt-bag to hosting high-stakes games in swanky hotels. Her up-market lifestyle sours when the Russian Mafia move in for a piece of the action. She quits the game but then the F.B.I. busts her, which is the point at which we pick up her story which is largely told in flashback as Molly and her defense lawyer, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) try to work up a case in her favour. .

When I say “told” I mean “told”. Molly’s voice-over runs through at least 50% per cent of the film  and another 25% is pure dialogue. As Sorkin's already-cited credits would suggest, this is razor-sharp stuff, impressive' albeit at times so tortuous plot-wise that it requires illustrative animations to shepherd us through the poker jargon. In many ways watching Molly’s Game means simply hanging onto its verbal coat-tails, something which distracts us from worrying about Sorkin’s directorial choices, particularly in casting. Like... given that Molly keeps telling us that her clientele was made up of movie and rock stars, sport celebs and business tycoons why do all the men at her table look like such sorry-assed losers, not one of them remotely "powerful" as Sorkin's psychological profile of Molly. requires  One even wonders did the chronically dorky Michael Cera pay Sorkin for the role of Player X. a supposed movie star and, apparently, sociopathological poker addict.  

But that’s only part of the downside of Molly’s Game.Whilst it does hold our attention and is well-made Sorkin adheres to mainstream Hollywood conventions, both as a writer and director. This is compounded by the fact that its based on Bloom’s self-penned memoir. Sorkin is quite happy to serve up the authorised image of Molly as the good girl gone (briefly) wrong yet who is rewarded by god of happy ending. This is so despite a late colloquy with Jaffey, who by now is convinced that she is virtually Snow White, just one who got the name from cocaine rather than the stuff you see on Christmas cards, that she knowingly thrived on her clients' gambling addiction. Jaffey's impassioned climactic plea for leniency to the court is such a white-washing that even Molly appears incredulous. Elba stands out in his role with a couple of grand-standing monologues provided by Sorkin but if anything Molly's game might have been more intriguing and the film moer persuasive if it was with Jaffey who no doubt was provided with a daughter for just this purpose but who Sorkin allows to drift out of the narrative.

Although Chastain gives Sorkin’s Oscar-nominated dialogue forceful articulation she looks like she should have been a character in Sex And The City, her make-up and hair constantly changing and her cleavage making an extensive supporting appearance. And there’s the rub, it’s all powder and paint. Aaron Sorkin's film as much as Molly's "Poker Princess".

FYI: Sorkin also made father issues central to the motivation of Tom Cruise's character in A Few Good Men (1992).




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