Molly’s Game, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, is the kind of slick, polished studio fare made for adults that it feels like Hollywood doesn’t make any more. The film is entertaining from frame one and in the capable hands of actors like Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, the movie is elevated to a whole other level.
Molly’s Game tells the story of Molly Bloom, a one time champion skier who after an accident decides to take a gap year from skiing/law school and heads to California. She gets a job working as an assistant for a terrible human being who then makes her help with poker games. Thus begins a life of hosting that then transitions to a full blown empire. But the attention of the game also catches the authorities and as her life spirals out of control, she has to turn to a lawyer to help her restore her good name.
The script for this movie, in lesser hands, might have gone off the rails. Non-linear structure, heavy voice over, having to explain poker, biopic, all these elements plus having compelling characters, that’s a lot to be in a movie. But Aaron manages to combine all of these while still having some interesting thematic material. You can write that way when you can trust your actors to match the intensity. Everyone from the girls playing Playboy playmates to Chastain herself turn in fully realized performances. I liked that Chastain was able to find interesting ways to relay her character’s good and bad traits both on screen and in the voice over, with which she does Herculean work. She has a great scene partner in Idris Elba as a morally righteous attorney, who matches her in intensity, but also humanity.
Much like every Aaron Sorkin picture, the words and the performances are the real star. Luckily, now that Aaron is in the director’s chair, he has realized that he doesn’t need to oversell anything. Sure, Molly’s Game could have been more visually impressive, but there’s something admirable in not trying to do too much. Aaron’s directing shines the most in the scenes where he has Molly narrating the action of the poker matches and how the characters are affected by the in game changes. It’s a really cool balancing act that he pulls off in teaching novices like me about poker while simultaneously delivering character beats and rapid fire dialogue.