Off the top, a couple of reasons to view this film: Jessica Chastain’s pairing with Idris Elba. Reinforced by Aaron Sorkin’s direction and script (based on Molly Bloom’s book of true life experiences), the two actors ( individually, and in tandem), deliver performances that seem natural as well as bold.
“Molly’s Game” is a high-tempo character-driven punch-in-the-gut drama, dealing a hand with high stakes all-night card games, drugs, alcohol, violence and the Russian Mob. It sets up a scenario of private poker jousts in which thousand of dollars are won or lost in hours by well heeled participants. Viewers with no interest in, knowledge of, and/or the big bucks to enter these exclusive affairs, wont be dealt a bad hand. Sorkin’s film unveils the inner workings with clarity, so that neophytes can grasp the inticracies of the sport?/game.
The narrative references Molly, a fierce competitor as a freestyle skier in the U.S. Olympic trials. A disastrous mishap occurs causing significant injuries, dumping her into an abyss of depression. Analyzing her options, amd digging out of her dark mood, Molly re-emerges as a production assistant for an unscrupulous Hollywood film maker with a sideline of weekly celebrity card games. Pressed into service, Molly, who doesn’t gamble and isn’t paid, becomes aware of an emerging hidden talent as a dominant poker hostess who is rewarded with generous tips from the high-rolling clients.
Sensing an opportunity to make bags-full of the greenstuff, Molly breaks away and plays her hand fronting a personal enterprise at a fashionable hotel in partnership with a movie actor (Michael Cera). His star power draws participtants to their project which skims along successfully until the high profile celebrity seeks to alter the financial arrangements, giving him a bigger cut. Following a verbal battle, Molly finds herself severed from their operation.
Just like the title character in the Broadway musical “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” (she survived the Titanic disaster), Molly picks herself up, establishing another high stakes poker game, this time in New York. On the upswing and sailing smoothly, Molly’s remarkable success attracts bigwigs from Wall Street who become regular players, but as well, garners unwanted attention from underworld mobs. There’s further jeopardy when the FBI swoops in arresting Molly on charges of involvement with the Russian Mafia. It’s either talk or face jail time. Sorkin’s script sets up a dilemma for Molly; will she play her cards close to her chest and end up in the clink….or will she acquiesce to the demands of the FBI?
I really became aware of Chastain as the kooky, mentally unstable Southern woman in the 2011 box office hit “The Help”. The role earned her an Oscar nod in the supporting role category. She was back in the Oscar race for a second time in 2013, nominated in the Best Actress list portraying a persevering CIA agent hunting Osama Bin Laden in “Zero Dark Thirty”. In the political thriller “Miss Sloane” (2016), Chastain plays a determined Washington lobbyist who always does whatever is required to win. In all these roles Chastain presents a fearless side to her talents, filling the roles with an easily assimilated realistic touch. So it is with “Molly’s Game”. The actress is in top form, her character dominant and driven yet vulnerable and flawed. Viewing her at work is itself the price of the admission ticket.
In a somewhat supporting role, British actor Idris Elba (now living in the Atlanta area) is magnetic as Charlie Jaffrey, Molly’s lawyer. The actor has a lengthy list of big and small screen credits that remain in mind, from “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom” (film) to “The Wire” and “Luther” (tv). Elba’s character interpretations, a window to his varied talents, is backed by an intimidating physical stature, tall, broad shouldered and menacing gaze.
The pairing of Chastain and Elba forms the bedrock of Sorkin’s absorbing drama while a secondary relationship between Molly and her psychologist father (Kevin Kostner), skips along in flashback progression detailing a troubled history ending in an explosive conclusion.
In the “me too” vortex currently headlining the news, Sorkin’s film is timely. Molly, undaunted by sexual shenanigans and career headway road blocks, brazenly parades a driving desire to move ahead in a man’s game. In a provocative cinematic performance, Chastain is one major reason why “Molly’s Game” belongs on the “best movie of the year” list. The film is currently showing in selected markets.