Title: Molly's Game
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
MR. SMITHERS: You know Homer Simpson?
JOEY CRUSHER: Yeah, nice guy. Play poker with him once in a while.
MR. SMITHERS: Mm-hm. We, um, need him beaten up.
JOEY CRUSHER: You got it.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Man, those Russian mobsters are a surly bunch.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three Spider-Man 3 Peter Parkers out of five.
Tagline: "Deal with her."
Better Tagline: "It's a man's world, still."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Once an Olympic skiing hopeful, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) moves to L.A. and finds herself working bottle service at a club, then helping coordinate a weekly poker game, then running her own high stakes game for actors, athletes, and other high rollers. One of the aforementioned celebrities, "Player X" (Michael Cera) comes to resent her popularity, bringing the game to end and sending Bloom to New York City, where she attempts to replicate her earlier success, eventually running afoul of drugs, the Russian mob, and the FBI.
"Critical" Analysis: Those familiar with Aaron Sorkin, the writer behind such movies and TV shows as A Few Good Men, The West Wing, and The Social Network, wll recognize his signature rapid-fire dialogue and wisecracking characters in Molly's Game. Those unfamiliar with him will think, "Jesus, these people sure talk a lot."
In many ways, Molly Bloom's story is a perfect vehicle for Sorkin. The world of high stakes poker isn't survived by the slow-witted, and the back and forth between Bloom and her players is good stuff. Whether she's fending off advances, deflecting pleas for credit, or manuevering for higher profile clients, Chastain's Bloom almost always holds her own.
Poker table talk also provided fertile territory for the Moneyball scribe, especially in the person of Player X, the A-list actor whose vindictive streak is almost as strong as his card-playing ability. Based on Spider-Man actor Tobey Maguire, Player X is manipulative and condescending and eventually drives Molly out of town, where her problems really begin.
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Not that Sorkin is very convincing in the "crime doesn't pay" department. The poker games are all done in very slo-mo Hype Williams video fashion, and Chastain is about as convincing as a coked-up burnout as Mark Wahlberg was as a junkie in The Basketball Diaries. There is one scene where a mob heavy confronts Bloom in her apartment that's truly chilling, but that's about it.
Because at its heart, Molly's Game is the story of a person with nothing left but her integrity (we'll leave aside the drug issues for now). Bloom's continued troubles with the law stem in large part because she maintained ignorance of the Russian mob's influence on her game and refused to sell out her players. Had Sorkin gone all in (poker pun!) with this, the results might have been more of a home run (Moneyball pun!).
Instead, Sorkin inserts one totally fabricated character — lawyer Charlie Jaffrey (Idris Elba) — who satisfies the minimum Sorkin requirement of one impassioned legal speech per movie, and one unbelievable one. Kevin Costner continues his latter career streak of gruff daddy roles by playing Molly's therapist father Larry, whose final "attagirl" speech is so out of keeping with how he's portrayed the rest of the movie it's borderline insulting.
We can thank Chastain for making Molly's Game as watchable as it is. Because while Molly Bloom's story is fascinating, Aaron Sorkin isn't the filmmaker to do it justice. His track record with female characters is iffy (though he never misses an opportunity to accentuate Chastain's breasts), and making Bloom the subject of the first film he directs seems a lot like playing catchup for the dude flicks like Steve Jobs and The Newsroom.