By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn
The worlds created within screenwriter (and now director) Aaron Sorkin’s films are not unlike reality. His filmography, which includes such masterpieces as THE SOCIAL NETWORK and STEVE JOBS (the good one), delves deep into complicated, intelligent, fast talking characters whose success often hides their flaws, and it’s up to Sorkin to create a film that exceeds beyond the word ‘entertaining.’ The worlds are familiar. But they’re not the same. He doesn’t indistinguishably recapture reality, but instead, he takes reality, and more often than not true stories, and he sharpens them into the exact version of that story he knows audiences want to see. They’re not always 100% accurate, but they’re far more entertaining than they would be in the hands of anyone else.
MOLLY’S GAME is no exception. The primary plot beats of the true events are kept alive, but the smaller, finite moments are executed in the most Sorkin of ways, and I wouldn’t want any other version. We follow the story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), an ex-Olympian who fell from fame after a severe injury, but, given the fiery determination of her personality, she doesn’t let that stop her from rising amongst the ranks. While her career may no longer be skiing, Molly still manages to find success through high stakes poker. We intercut between her rise in power as well as the court case she gets wrapped up in a number of years later, aided by her (albeit fictionalized) lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba).
This is a film of pure, non-stop entertainment. Aaron Sorkin is a master of words, able to spin any situation into a gripping sequence of conflict with high-impact emotional resonance. It’s a highly calculated and relentlessly fast whirlwind of verbal elegance that spits words faster than these characters can shuffle cards. You don’t need to enjoy nor understand the ways of poker to be invested in this story. It’s not necessarily a story of poker, either; it’s the story of a woman overcoming her trodden down past to be the best of the best in an unmatched display of raw power, and I loved it.
The narrative goes in a lot of different directions without allowing time for the audience to catch up. In a lot of regards, I respect that. It doesn’t look down on the viewers, but rewards their attention, however there is a sort of overbearing feeling that looms large throughout. So much information is thrown your way that it’s easy to get lost, and within that confusion, character motives, and in some cases character relevance, isn’t clear. The opening of this film is fantastic. I want to get that out of the way. But it’s so much information and voice over thrown at you all in the one go and it takes a moment to get a grasp on where you’re at. You’re half a step behind before it even begins, but once you catch up, the rest is worth the effort.
What it does serve as is another fine display that Jessica Chastain is better than all of us. This feels strangely like a sequel/spin off to Chastain’s recent MISS SLOANE, all the way down to the way her character acts, looks and talks, but even still, her performance is one of her best. If it weren’t for an overcrowded year of excellent performances, Chastain’s name would certainly be up in the air in regards to awards considerations. This is the best she’s been since ZERO DARK THIRTY, matched by an all-star supporting cast featuring the likes of Idris Elba, Kevin Costner and Michael Cera. Sure, not every celebrity appearance needs to be there (Chris O’Dowd plays a drunk Irishman simply because Chris O’Dowd is great at playing a drunk Irishman), but they’re welcomed nonetheless.
Sorkin’s approach to directing is admirable, and he’s certainly making a step in the right direction towards a long lasting career behind the camera, but one can’t help but feel he’s better at being behind the computer instead. There’s nothing necessarily awful about the way he directs this film, and I’m sure with more time given to the craft he’s be bound to improve and perhaps even stand alongside some of the all time greats, but for now, a lot of it feels… bland.
We’re constantly taken to high class, luxurious locations yet it doesn’t feel like it. There’s just nothing visually interesting about it. STEVE JOBS is a film I gave 5 stars to, but I didn’t just give it 5 stars because of the script and the performances (not to discredit the art of screenwriting in any way. It’s a career I want to get into myself). Boyle’s direction took what Sorkin had and crafted an immaculate spectacle. With MOLLY’S GAME, Sorkin’s directing is only partially there.
MOLLY’S GAME doesn’t get everything right, but it gets enough right to work wonders. There’s a moment when the world’s greatest on-screen dad, Papa Steve Harrington from STRANGER THINGS, makes an out-of-the-blue appearance, and the crowd of critics at the screening collectively gasped. If that isn’t enough of a selling point… well… then you’re just missing out.
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