This movie has a lot going for it, including Jessica Chastain with a very complicated role and giving screenwriter Aaron Sorkin his first directorial effort. If you don’t recognize Sorkin’s name, he’s responsible for writing films like The Social Network, Steve Jobs, Moneyball, A Few Good Men, and almost the entire series The West Wing.
Chastain stars as Molly Bloom, a former professional skier who is injured and ends up getting roped into running a high stakes poker game. This movie is the story of how she got to that place and how she ended up in a major criminal investigation involving the Russian mob. Her lawyer (Idris Elba) is the key source of exposition, asking Molly all the questions that we as an audience might have. We also have a few key poker players, played by Michael Cera, Chris O’Dowd, and Justin Kirk. Molly’s current day story is also paralleled by her youth and a complicated relationship with her father (Kevin Costner).
Molly’s Game is a fantastic movie and absolutely fits in with other Sorkin films.
Jessica Chastain carries the movie and she’s perfect. You absolutely believe her struggles and her performances in different time eras are very illuminating to where she is in current time. It’s nuanced and complicated and she’s great here. She’s complemented well by Idris Elba, though he mostly serves to progress the plot and trigger flashback scenes. He does have one big moment at the end that gave me goosebumps and almost made me applaud in the theater.
I also want to commend casting some relative B-list talent that get a chance to shine here. Michael Cera hasn’t done much recently, but here he’s perfect. Chris O’Dowd and Justin Kirk (Weeds) also get little moments to steal the show.
Sorkin’s strength is (unsurprisingly) his dialogue and quick exposition. This movie cuts quickly and manages to keep you entertained for its entire runtime, finding time to explain poker mechanics in ways that non-poker players would understand. He also manages to make Chastain’s constant narration seem natural, which is hard to do.
This movie manages to balance a few different tones exceptionally well. It’s funny, a lot of the time. Molly is quick and witty. The movie also manages to become really somber at times, including some intense moments revolving around Molly and her father (Kevin Costner). Costner may only have a few meaty scenes but he delivers a top-notch performance here.
Molly’s Game also manages to intrigue you, which is sometimes tough for a “true story” film. I didn’t know how it was going to twist and turn and I was (luckily) pretty uninformed about the real life story, which I think is the best way to go into this. Go in knowing nothing, then do your research when you get home on how it really might’ve gone down.
What doesn’t work?
The only complaint I can think of is that the movie nears the 2.5 hour mark, though the speed of the movie never slows down, I never once wanted to check the time. So it’s lengthy but I don’t have a problem with the pacing, it all works.
Molly’s Game is exciting, interesting, and educational. It had me laughing throughout most of it, but it also manages some hefty emotional moments as well. Jessica Chastain delivers an award-worthy performance, as does Kevin Costner in a supporting capacity. The trailers for this movie underwhelmed me but the actual film surprised me a lot, in all the right ways.