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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Molly's Game

Jessica Chastain is at the top of her game in acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut.
By Sarah Ward
February 01, 2018
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Molly's Game

Jessica Chastain is at the top of her game in acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut.
By Sarah Ward
February 01, 2018
  shares

If The West Wing, The Social NetworkA Few Good Men and Steve Jobs taught us anything, it's that Aaron Sorkin knows how to write dialogue. With his work often rapid-fire in pace, passionate in tone and frequently delivered via his trademark walk-and-talk scenes, Sorkin demonstrates a winning way with words unlike anyone else in the business. With Molly's Game, however, he's faced with a new challenge. Sure, he knows how to pen intelligent stories that flow with their own almost-hypnotic rhythm. But does he know how to direct them as well?

Like much of Sorkin's output, the success of Molly's Game comes down to the folks doing the talking. Invariably, his wordy scripts shine brightest when they're brought to life by exceptional actors. With a knack for his timing, sharpness and smarts, Jessica Chastain proves a perfect match. Indeed, Molly's Game might have Sorkin's name and stamp all over it, but this is Chastain's picture through and through. Whether she's rattling off skiing and gambling statistics in voiceover, bantering back and forth with her also-excellent co-star Idris Elba, or working poker rooms filled with the rich and famous, she is the movie's true trump card.

In her latest impressive performance as a formidable woman in a male-dominated realm (see also: Zero Dark Thirty, A Most Violent Year and Miss Sloane), the two-time Oscar nominee plays Molly Bloom, the real-life former Olympic-level skier turned poker magnate. Stripped of her sporting dream after a horrific accident, Bloom heads to Los Angeles to "be young for a while in warm weather." When she takes on an admin job to pay the bills, she has no idea that she'll also be running her boss' weekly card games. Before long, she's in charge of her own underground gambling empire, and later being chased down by the FBI.

Sorkin's film is based on Bloom's tell-all book, Molly's Game: From Hollywood's Elite to Wall Street's Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker. That title may be a bit of a mouthful, but it also explains why Sorkin was so attracted to the story (other than a fondness for verbosity). Power, success, the pursuit of both, and the intersection of idealism and corruption are common themes in his other screenplays, and they're all present here. As such, he's in very comfortable territory with a dynamite true tale that's topical, entertaining and filled with astute insights about human psychology and behaviour. Throw a stellar star and a stacked support cast — Michael Cera, Kevin Costner, Chris O'Dowd and even Stranger Things' Joe Keery — into the mix, and Molly's Game must've seemed like an easy winning hand.

And it is, almost. In addition to its slick visuals, the film reflects some of Sorkin's best tendencies — a recent Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay is proof of that. Unfortunately it also suffers from some of his worst. Indulgence is one such grating trait, with moments of repetition and near-constant chatter blowing the running time out to 140 minutes. Sentimentality is another, with the writer-director happy to hit hard in his dialogue, but happier still when it comes with a warm glow as well. Still, when Chastain is unleashing her fast-paced narration or trading pithy chatter with Elba, you'll be able to overlook many of the film's flaws. And thankfully, that happens a lot.

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