I wanted to love this movie. I really did. I put it on my list of most anticipated movies of 2017 and I’ve really enjoyed following Aaron Sorkin’s career ever since I took his online screenwriting course. I was excited to see what he would do behind the camera as a first time director, but despite the intriguing premise, I found myself anxiously awaiting the end credits around the 120 minute mark (and I still had to sit through 20 more minutes). I wasn’t sure exactly what to think about Molly Bloom, the film’s protagonist, by the end. In an era when anti-heroes are popular, I’m wondering if Sorkin was trying to provide us with a fascinating female version in this film, but the way Sorkin decided to portray Molly’s character didn’t quite give the audience enough to have strong feelings about her either way.
Molly’s Game follows the true story of Molly Bloom, (played by Jessica Chastain) an Olympic level freestyle skier. She’s a go-getter in all areas of her life, propelled by her strict and emotionally distant father whom we get to know through flashbacks. The dynamic of the relationship with her father (Kevin Costner) and powerful men in general, seems to be a driving factor in many of her high risk decisions – a conclusion that’s somewhat sloppily conveyed in one of the last scenes of the film.
When Molly is disqualified from the Park City Olympics after a ski accident, (the first scene in the film) she decides to postpone law school and move to L.A. where she hopes to have some fun and make it on her own for a while. She starts out as a cocktail waitress and eventually wiggles her way into an Executive Assistant position for a sleazy self-made Hollywood mogul whose business is floundering. He runs a high stakes poker game once a week with the “who’s who” in Hollywood and eventually gives over the responsibility of running the game to Molly where she observes and learns everything she can about the game and makes a lot of money doing it.
What follows is Molly’s rise and fall in the world of high stakes poker. From her beginnings helping organize her boss’ game, to running the most successful, high stakes poker games on both coasts, she becomes infatuated with the success. She’s in deep by the end. So much so that though her operation is technically legal at the beginning, she starts to make more and more compromises, even turning to a dangerous concoction of drugs and booze to sustain her lifestyle. Once the Russian mob gets involved it’s all downhill.
There’s no doubt that Sorkin is a talented writer. He has a robust resume that includes popular shows like The West Wing and Newsroom and iconic films like A Few Good Men and The American President. More recently he worked on The Social Network and Steve Jobs. These films and shows are characterized by snappy dialogue, and lots of it. This style is all over Molly’s Game, but unfortunately it bled over into his directing, which made the film feel jerky and over explained. There were even moments when a character was acting something out while a voice over explained the action. The entire film is drenched in voice over, constant dialogue, and exhaustive explanations.
Chastain really does carry the movie with her performance, and the supporting cast (including Chris O’ Dowd, Idris Elba, Michael Cera, and Bill Camp to name a few) isn’t half bad either. While it was refreshing to see a strong female character portrayed on the screen, there was just so much going on, it was hard to really enjoy her journey or her story because of all of the noise. Molly’s Game isn’t the worst things you could see in the theater. But unless you’re a big fan of poker and you want to sit for 140 minutes to have it explained to you while you watch a young girl with a lot of potential sabotage her own life, seeing this movie is a pretty big gamble.