MOVIE REVIEW: Chastain shines in Molly’s Game
MOLLY'S GAME (M)
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera
Verdict: High-stakes drama is a safe bet
It must be the season for true stories about morally murky American women who are good at winter sports. One week after I, Tonya - the story of a figure skater's spectacular fall from grace - we get a movie about one-time freestyle skier Molly Bloom (played by Jessica Chastain) and her ignoble but exciting career running underground high stakes poker games.
Molly's Olympic hopes are swiftly dashed in the pre-credits sequence when, in a cruel twist of fate, she loses one of her skis in mid-flight. But the film is more concerned with Bloom's second, more famous fall, when she's arrested 12 years later by the FBI.
In the intervening years she has skipped law school to the chagrin of her demanding psychoanalyst father (Kevin Costner), moved to LA, and gone to work for a jerk of a businessman (Jeremy Strong) who runs a high-stakes poker game for celebrities on the side. Amazed to rubbing shoulders with captains of industry, sports stars and movie actors, she swiftly learns the ins and outs of a world where the only thing flying around in bigger quantities than the cash is the testosterone.
"I don't like playing poker, I like destroying lives," claims the nameless movie star gambler played by Michael Cera, in an example of the kind of ballsy dialogue we've come to expect from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, Steve Jobs, and TV's The West Wing). Sorkin makes an impressive directorial debut here.
Back in the present day Molly is obliged to hire an expensive lawyer (Idris Elba) to defend her when it's revealed that many of her clients were Russian gangsters. But how much did Bloom actually know?
Just like Tonya Harding, Molly Bloom is not exactly role model material. As she freely admits in the film, she took advantage of gambling addicts. But like Harding, her punishment arguably did not fit her crime. And the movie is full of admiration for what she achieved as a woman exhibiting power over powerful men.
Chastain's performance sizzles with intelligence and ambition, but it's just a little disappointing that Sorkin feels the need to psychoanalyse Molly in a scene near the end where she confronts her father.
If she were a male character, would we accept Kevin Costner swooping in to mansplain everything? That said, it's nice to see the old codger in a small but prickly role of the kind he never played when he was a big, bland movie star.
He's a good actor, when the chips are down.