“Molly’s Game”: The true, larger-than-life story of Molly Bloom
January isn’t known as being a great month for cinema (often being referred to as a “dump month”), so the overall quality and energy of Aaron Sorkin’s “Molly’s Game” may come as a surprise to many. A true story based on the life of an Olympic athlete turned “poker princess,” “Molly’s Game” is an intricate story, but one that is definitely worth learning about.
For those who are unaware of the real life of Molly Bloom (played by Jessica Chastain): she was an Olympic skier who, after a back injury prevented her from competing, ran the most exclusive poker game in the world, operating out of LA and NYC. She hosted games for celebrities, athletes, and mobsters, while earning millions of dollars in the process. The story is split into two parts of her life: how she built her poker empire (the past) and how she lost it all (the present). The film ultimately culminates in her arrest and subsequent trial, forcing her to face her long list of federal charges.
Jessica Chastain’s take on Molly is captivating, to say the least. She’s methodical, calculating, and ruthless in her pursuit of power and wealth: siphoning money from the most upper class. She draws comparisons between herself and Circe (the witch who turns men into pigs), and rules her games with an iron grip. Molly never plays poker, let me make that clear; she simply provides others the opportunity, and reaps in the benefits. Not only is she depicted as powerful though, she’s also very relatable. Throughout the film, she faces strong opposition. And although that opposition overwhelms her and beats her down, she never lets it keep her there. Seeing her rebuild, adapt, and come out better than before is inspiring, and Chastain perfectly merges Molly’s cold exterior with the toll her lifestyle takes on her.
The rest of the movie’s supporting cast is also quite strong. Idris Elba as Molly’s lawyer, Charlie Jaffey, is the stoic force of reason to Molly’s forceful presence. Almost all of the present day story is conversations shared between Jaffey and Bloom, but these moments are as equally entertaining as the high stakes gambling set in the past. That is entirely because of how magnetic Chastain’s and Elba’s performances are. They play off of each other in unexpected ways, raising the stakes with each line, but without ever going over the top.
Elba and Chastain are joined by a bevy of other talented stars, who fill out the roster of poker players Molly encounters throughout her time running games. Stars like Michael Cera, Bill Camp, Joe Keery, and Chris O’Dowd are only a few examples of the talent within the film.
Despite its strong cast and story, however, “Molly’s Game” does have a significant weakness to look out for. The story structure is not initially clear. Shifts between past and present are never indicated, meaning the first few leaps can be jarring, especially when the past occasionally comes out of order. There are also flashbacks within flashbacks, voice over narrations that come and go when at the whim of exposition, and a generally confusing sense of direction. It’s never so confusing that any given audience member wouldn’t be able to follow what’s going on, but the chaotic editing of this film is enough to become a distraction. Also, knowing some poker terms would definitely help.
That being said, some distracting editing can be overlooked for an otherwise very entertaining film. Its themes are similar to that of a pulpy noir: femme fatales luring men to their demise on a backdrop of a morally corrupt system in which no one is quite right. It’s not the cheeriest movie and has one very disturbing scene of violence, but all of it is true to life. And that’s the biggest selling point of this piece: this is more than just an intriguing story; it’s intriguing history.