Molly’s Game **1/2
One Liner Review:
An incredibly smart and entertaining movie about running a card game that’s only flaw is that it’s a little too long.
This is an intelligent and engaging movie about a woman who knew all the angles of how to run a high stakes card game, until they finally caught up with her. Molly Bloom’s story is about the most elite poker game in the country. The movie is about how Molly got the game, ran it, and then dealt with the aftermath. As written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, (his director debut,) the movie naturally has great, snappy dialogue. It also cleverly fractures the narrative (just like Sorkin did with the Social Network,) so that we are watching the lawyer meetings and trials while also seeing the events that these meetings are discussing. The movie is told in flashback, using Molly’s voice over to take us through everything and help us understand this new and very exclusive world. It is definitely a little too long, but otherwise, this is a very good movie.
Molly’s Game is a very good movie. It’s smart and thrilling in all the right ways. It’s filled with great dialogue and lively characters. It’s also the first movie not only written, but also directed by Aaron Sorkin. This guy is a true mastermind when it comes to writing. From his early days of writing a Few Good Men to the way he’s really dug deep into stories about technology and inventions with both The Social Network and Steve Jobs, Sorkin is one of the best screenwriters out there, and with Molly’s Game, he once again delivers when it comes to writing. He chose a pretty smart movie for his directorial debut, and the result is a lot of fun.
The movie opens with Molly (Jessica Chastain’s) voice over asking us what the worst thing that come happen to a person in a sporting event is. Instead of challenging the audience, though (and most likely getting the answer “death,” as a response,) this movie talks about a survey that was given to professional athletes and goes over their answers. So we get things like “lost a game 7 in the NBA, or get swept in 4 in the World Series, or lose to Argentina in a soccer game.” And then we see what happens to Molly when she is skiing and trying out for the Olympic team. We see her calculate every little thing, including the angle of the slope. And then we see her hit a frozen patch of grass, watch it cause her boot to come off, and see her chances end in injury.
It’s a hell of a way to open the movie, because it establishes a bond between the character and audience, with her talking to us for a while already, giving us a detailed rundown of way more than we need to know. It also gives us back story about the character. From there we go further back in time to see how Molly got to this point, and watch her as a child growing up with a dominating and competitive father. Played by Kevin Costner, this is probably Costner’s best role in the past decade. He’s a psychology professor, and he’s all about trying to understand and help Molly, even when his help isn’t wanted. Every year, the father interviews both Molly and her siblings on their birthdays to find out more about who they are, (asking them questions like what they think of marriage, and who their heroes are.)
And soon we are watching Molly move out to California before going to law school, to see if there’s anything else she’d rather pursue, before she jumps in. Once in California, Molly has to work multiple jobs in order to pay the rent. These include working at a club and then becoming the personal assistant of a businessman. Well, turns out that businessman runs a card game, and he wants Molly to hep out with it. The first night, he gives her a list of things to do in order to setup the room, and the rest she googles and figures out for herself, (such as what kind of music poker players like to listen to.)
And just like that, Molly Bloom is off and running. She’s still working for her employer, but now she’s hosting and running card games, and can’t get enough. She’s rubbing elbows with the biggest celebrities, and counting thousands of dollars. And she’s getting great tips from each and every one of them. All of this is interspersed with scenes of Molly and her lawyer, as she tells him the story of what happened to her and how she got brought into this world. The lawyer is Charlie Jaffey, played by Idris Elba, and it’s another knock out role for him. He finds himself arguing and debating Molly in this movie almost as often as he finds himself defending her.
Before we meet her lawyer, however, we are with Molly in the middle of the night when her house gets raided by the FBI. They call her up and tell her they’re outside, and the next thing you know, she’s opening the door to some heavily armed agents, as if she’s a violent force that they need protection from. From here, we jump to Molly looking for a lawyer. She chooses Charlie Jaffey because he’s honest. He doesn’t take deals or look for ways to cheat. This comes into play later on, when he needs to remind Molly why she chose him. But for the time being, she has no money to pay him, (the FBI froze all of her assets,) and so he has to decide whether or not he wants to take the case.
It turns out to be more of a challenging decision than one might expect. For a while into the arraignment hearing, Charlie isn’t even planning on being Molly’s lawyer. Her lawyer stands beside her, and Charlie stands beside him, just watching to see how the arraignment goes. And every other minutes, Charlie realizes he has something else to tell or ask Molly, and switches places with her lawyer. It’s comical how many times they switch spots on this tiny bench. But by the end of it all, Charlie asks Molly one question about those who owe her debt and how many people tried to buy this debt from her, and why she never sold it. Molly answers right, and it wins Charlie over. This is the kind of memorable writing that only Sorkin can do.
Molly runs the poker game for her boss for a while, but then her boss starts to have a change of heart about how much he’s paying her. She works for him in the office by day, and at the card game at night, and her boss decides he’s not going to pay her at all anymore. The money she makes from tips at the card game should be enough. And just like that, Molly starts planning her own thing. She brings in a bunch of the clients from the other cards game, including Player X, a representation of all the acting celebrities who have sat down at her game. She tells all the players who were showing up that night for her bosses game, that the location has been moved, and she instead brings them to her game, up in a hotel suite.
And that’s where the card playing fun begins. We get scenes of different hands and who has what card and what it all means. As far as poker movies goes, this one puts Rounders to shame. It’s been a while since that game had to explain to us the rules of Texas Hold ‘Em, (that movie actually preceded and might have even kicked off the craze.) Here, there’s no time to explain and really no looking back. And the movie finds great ways to help the non-card player avoid getting lost, like showing different pairs a player can make by drawing circles or boxes around the cards.
We get lots of individual stories, from Harland, a man who goes on a two days dry spell and ends up betting way more than he has (and losing his wife in the process,) to the Irishman with ties to the Russian mob. We watch Molly get attacked, and watch her dad come in and explain things to her from a psychological point of view. That scene on the bench between them, when he takes her through three years of psychology school in a matter of minutes, is probably the best scene in the movie. And that’s saying something, because this is a very good, well-written film. The only flaw is that it’s too long. At two hours and twenty minutes, a little shorter and more tight would have made it a little stronger.