Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Molly's Game

In choosing to adapt Molly Bloom's true story, writer/director Aaron Sorkin begins with an already intriguing subject matter which is only helped by his trademark pacing and smart dialogue. Jessica Chastain is terrific as the failed amateur skier whose life took a dramatic twist after washing out of Olympic qualifying to become the what tabloids dubbed the "poker princess." Filled with celebrities and high rollers, Molly Brown ran the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker game for almost a decade before being arrested by the FBI. Sorkin rounds out the cast with Idris Elba as Molly's lawyer, Kevin Costner as Molly's father, and Michael Cera as one of the regulars at Molly's games.

Sorkin's script takes us through Molly's journey from the ski slopes to underground poker clubs, while offering insight on how Molly rose to fame and the struggles she faced long before the FBI started knocking on her door. Although she has a court case looming, and much of the film is spent with her talking about her past with her lawyer, Molly Bloom stays out of the courtroom in favor of flashbacks to her glory days and mistakes made along the way.

While the film is definitely belongs to Chastain, both Costner and Elba are put to good use. Costner steals more than few moments as the disapproving father, including a great scene late in the film (even if its set-up is the most awkward aspect of the script). As for Elba, he proves to be a great stand-in for the audience allowing Molly to tell her tale through a series of narrated flashbacks. While not initially all that keen on helping Ms. Brown, he can't help getting sucked into her story.

I often like sports movies (and, yes, for our purposes here I'm stretching the definition to including poker) even when I don't particularly enjoy watching the sport itself. (I'd much rather watch Tin Cup or Days of Thunder than any PGA or NASCAR event). Without spending as much time on specific hands or players, like Rounders, Molly's Game succeeds by showing us a different side of professional gambling by focusing on the behind-the-scenes of Molly's unique struggles, successes, and failures in running an underground game that everyone wanted to join.

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