‘Molly’s Game’, which is based on true events, finds once competitive skier Molly Bloom (portrayed by Jessica Chastain) facing federal charges for her involvement in illegal gambling. She’s broke (the FBI froze her assets two years ago) and has effectively seen two careers thrive and die before hitting the age of thirty-five. Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay evolves via a mixture of present-day conversations with her reluctant lawyer Charlie Jaffey (played by Idris Elba) and flashbacks narrated by her published book. It’s a gripping movie that cuts deeper than the brazen world of the hot-shot celebrities, politicians and businessmen that surround Molly’s poker table. Sorkin manages to find relatable nuance in Molly’s story, linking childhood grievances with her strive for power and focusing on the integrity of her choices.
Molly’s jump from skier to ‘Poker Princess’ is relatively simple. Her misogynistic LA-based real estate employer invites her to run Celebrity X’s poker game – Celebrity X is strongly rumoured to be based on Tobey Maguire (the likes of Dicaprio & Ben Affleck are also known to have frequented the room). Earning thousands from tips, in a shrewd move, she eventually takes control of the game: the venue, who plays and essentially becomes the bank. Still earning from her tips alone everything is legal at this point but Celebrity X, a douchebag at best, uses his power to rip the game away from her. Determined to continue, she moves to New York and rebuilds her game, bigger and better, but it’s from there amid a culture of greed, drugs, alcohol and bad decisions that things begin to spiral.
It seems to odd to describe a law-breaking drug addict who cultivated a grossly unhealthy environment of excessive gambling (and somehow ended up linked to the Russian Mob) as a heroine, but when Elba’s lawyer character admits that his young daughter admires Molly, I fully understand why. Chastain depicts Molly as a fierce, no-nonsense, intelligent woman. Although dressed seductively it’s always her sharpness and gritty resilience that shine through. Chastain’s performance is captivating and fully resonates during the many exchanges between her and Elba that are stuffed to the brim with the sort of intricate dialogue you’d expect from a Sorkin screenplay.
It would have been very easy for Molly’s Game to have mirrored The Wolf of Wall Street’s focus on indulgence, drugs, and frivolous disrespect for the value of money but Sorkin takes a much more enriching angle. He gives Molly credit for the way she seizes the opportunities that come her way, repeatedly bounces back when life knocks her down, owns her mistakes and allows her innate integrity to guide the majority of her decisions. Sure, things get kind of cringy toward the end of the film as he tries too hard to weld together Molly’s past a skier with all that happened after, but on the whole, the writing is sharp, engaging and often witty.
Molly’s Game is a film with strategy at its core. Of course, there’s a constant stream of poker games being played but there’s always a sense of Molly playing the room for her own gain. Ultimately she ends up strategising her way past a calculating, bargaining FBI and heck, (if you want to get really meta) maybe the story continues maybe, for the ‘real Molly’, this film is a part of a bigger agenda to clear her name and contrive another significant chance in life. Which begs the question: did she win? With this film, she definitely regained the upper hand.
Overall, I give Molly’s Game a rating of 4/5.