Molly’s Game is very impressive, at times ruthlessly funny and, despite a 140 minute running time, awfully gripping.
Aaron Sorkin is renowned from sea to shining sea for his work as screenwriter (he penned A Few Good Men, solely adapted The Social Network and more) and as a major name on TV (he created The West Wing, The Newsroom and so on), but this is his first feature film as writer and director.
Drawn from the factual book by Molly Bloom, who wanted, and got, Jessica Chastain to play her onscreen, Sorkin’s pic features a great deal of talk but, in his hands, it’s almost always wonderful, hilarious, real talk. Molly first recounts her youth in voiceover: we see her young self suffer a brush with scoliosis and then how her disapproving Dad (Kevin Costner in only a few scenes) drove her to Olympic skiing competition anyway, even as they fought bitterly. This then leaps way forward to 2013 and the adult Molly’s arrest by the FBI and we watch as she’s forced to pursue representation by an expensive lawyer named Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba, excellent even if his long speeches occasionally seem a little over the top).
Molly wrote about her high-stakes gambling experiences in her just-published book and recalls much of what happened in flashback, as she went from waitressing in LA to working for a scumbag real estate agent (Jeremy Strong), and how she made his weekly poker games far more successful, especially when Hollywood figures regularly turned up. One of these is dubbed ‘Player X’. Portrayed by Michael Cera, speculation is rife about who he in fact was (Tobey Maguire? Leonardo DiCaprio? Ben Affleck? Or, when he gets nasty, Johnny Depp?).
When Molly is forced to start again in New York and set up even bigger-time games, she hires Playboy playmates, begins to break the legal rules and, thanks to maudlin drunk Douglas Downey (Chris O’Dowd), falls afoul of the Russian Mafia in a sequence that’ll kick the wind right out of you.
With a complicated, chronologically tricky narrative and much detail about professional (and not so professional) poker that never quite seems confusing, this could have been messy but Sorkin keeps it coolly compelling. The cast are all very fine, with Chastain offering a performance that’s all aces.
Rated M. Molly’s Game is in cinemas now