Director: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd
Aaron Sorkin basically invented the faced-paced walking-and-talking trope you now see in so many films and TV shows. He was the man behind all of that, yet no one can quite do it with the same panache. You can really tell when it’s not Sorkin writing the dialogue because it never quite rings true when someone else tries it. Sorkin wrote the scripts for David Fincher’s The Social Network, Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, Bennett Miller’s Moneyball, Rob Reiner’s A Few Good Men and was also responsible for creating some great TV shows like Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, The Newsroom and most famously, The West Wing.
So we know the man can write, but can he direct? And that’s the question many people, myself included, were asking themselves when it was announced that he’ll be making his directorial debut with the cinematic adaptation of Molly Bloom’s bestselling book, Molly’s Game. The short answer to that question is yes, he can direct a movie to a satisfactory standard. Yet, the real answer is far more complex than that.
I’ll be hosting a game in this suite every Tuesday night. The first buy-in, $250,000.
Let’s start off with the plot. Molly’s Game tells the story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) and shows how she went from promising Olympic skier, to running the US’ most exclusive high-stakes poker games, to then being arrested by the FBI. Her poker-related career meant that she came into regular contact with some of Wall Street’s most notorious players, as well as certain members of the Russian mafia.
A lot of this film lives and dies on its performances and suffice to say that they are all exceptional, except for a few accent-related faux-pas from Idris Elba. However, the real star of Molly’s Game is, of course, Molly herself, immaculately played by Jessica Chastain. You can’t imagine anyone else playing this role. She has the poise, the voice, the believability, but most of all, she has that ‘don’t fuck with me’ face that makes her so right as the woman who ran the most exclusive high-stakes poker game nights in the United States.
You’ve seen what’s on those hard drives. Families, lives, careers will be ruined.
You can understand why so many of these men respected this woman. She gives off that feeling of pure control all whilst keeping her charming exterior intact. It’s really a very captivating performance from Chastain and she once again demonstrates that she’s one of the very best actors working in Hollywood today. She’s backed up by fine performances from the likes of Idris Elba (accent notwithstanding) who plays her lawyer Charlie Jaffey, but this lawyer has morals, which is virtually unheard of in that field, especially on the big screen.
Michael Cera also makes a welcome return to the big screen as the unnamed actor who’s a pretty dab hand at poker. Molly only ever refers to him as Player X. This is yet another one of Molly’s remarkable qualities which makes her such a likeable character. She made a lot of money by being ruthless and beating a lot of powerful men at their own game, yet when she was eventually arrested by the FBI and pressured into giving away the names of the men who participated in her poker games, she never wavered under their constant questioning and scrutiny. She never gave up those names because she didn’t want to ruin the lives of the innocent people connected to these men. Their wives, children, families, friends and maybe even legitimate business partners.
I was raised to be a champion. My goal was to win. At what and against whom, those were just details.
My problems with the film lie in Sorkin’s direction. The film looks good and well made yet it lacks that visual flair that some of the other movies he’s been involved with had. I know it sounds a bit unfair to compare his direction to that of Fincher or Danny Boyle, but you kind of have to when it comes to Sorkin because he was so heavily involved in the making of those movies. Before this film, I really did think of The Social Network and Steve Jobs as Aaron Sorkin movies, yet Molly’s Game demonstrates that that isn’t quite the case.
Molly’s Game is very well written. It’s full of that fast-paced dialogue we have come to expect from Sorkin over the years, but it does feel a lot like a play that’s been made for television in parts. Dialogue is important in cinema, but the visuals and the film’s stylistic tone is just as important, maybe even more so, and Molly’s Game is just lacking in those departments.
That said, as directorial debuts go Molly’s Game is pretty darn impressive. The film is fascinating, well written, brilliantly cast and wonderfully acted. It just needs that extra directorial spark to really make it a great film.