REVIEW: Molly’s Game (2017)

Written By: Nigel Asipa
I don’t understand poker, and I probably never will. Watching Molly’s Game, however, I’m probably not missing much. It turns people into absolute brutes. It looks degrading and desperate, even if you look cool while doing it.
So going through this I had to bypass all the savvy talk of the slick gamesmanship and power dynamics. Character studies are my thing, my favourite thing in fact and that’s really what I came for. Well that and the combined powers of Jessica Chastain and Aaron Sorkin.
Molly Bloom (Chastain) was one of the most promising Olympic skiers in the world. Since 12 she belonged on the snow, pushed to many extremes by her father, Larry (Kevin Costner). Mere inches away from reaching 3rd place on the podium, an accident dashed her dreams which resulted in a career-ruining injury. Her father’s insistence on striving for greatness proved worthwhile for her as her PhD in political science amongst other things makes her very resourceful.

mollys game

She moves over to L.A. to figure out her next career move (subconsciously anyway) and lands a few jobs there. One, in particular, involves using spreadsheets to organise weekly high stakes poker games for her uber douche of a boss Dean (Jeremy Strong). His games attract rappers, actors, directors, boxers and business tycoons; all of which take a liking to Molly’s unassuming charm and tip her serious money. One thing that resonates here is her dress code, one that doesn’t sit well with Dean when he berates her for her “ugly dress, ugly shoes”.
From then on in she wears lavish, revealing attire to distract the minted players somewhat but keeps them coming back, raising their stakes each time. Things go sour between her and Dean, inclining her to evolve herself into a capable and indispensable ‘poker princess’. Player ‘X’ (Michael Cera) a ruthless but formidable actor-player tags along with Molly for her to start her own poker event. But when his true colours come to be, it’s no longer hers anymore.
Considering calling it quits, she presses on and continues her lucrative but illegitimate poker career and soon catches the attention of the Russian mob, now surfing on dangerous tides. The mob inflict some somewhat aggressive tactics to stake their claim in the poker business she’s built, and soon after that, the FBI haul her in at West Hollywood.
Enter Idris Elba’s Charlie Jaffey. The attorney who throughout the film, chips away at Molly’s secrecy (especially considering her assets have been seized so she can’t afford to pay him and her case is a high profile mess). Alas, he decides to take her on, doing what he can to help her avoid serious jail time.
Sorkin paints Molly as a selfless, determined women who at times thought of herself as a witch or the’anti-wife’. The most profound moment in the whole affair is when Molly and Larry have a sit-down and discuss some hard truths about one another that roots through years of bicker and disdain. Sneakily it evoked such warmth and embrace from a lifelong conflict. It’s one of Costner’s best performances in recent memory.

mollys game

The structure calls back to Sorkin’s Oscar-winning work in The Social Network. We flip back and forth between flashbacks of Molly’s glamorous, precarious road to riches and her current predicament of being squeezed by the FBI of her assets. All while harbouring many names that could make her case more swift, if only it didn’t ruin the lives of those who didn’t manipulate her and had nothing to do with any criminal activity that went on. Chastain narrates in confident, rapid-fire fashion; as if reading straight from Molly’s memoir which is the source material the film is based on.
Sorkin’s directorial efforts are admirable, but like Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River, his strength’s are noticeably his screenplay. His super smart flair in his dialogue extends to his knack for making a lengthy running time like 140 mins seem so enlivening. One may think of The Wolf Of Wall Street for its ferocious energy.
Chastain is unsurprisingly in high gear here. She imbues Molly with insecurity, wit and ruthless drive (especially if you saw her in last year’s Miss Sloane). Her seemingly infinite powers marry Sorkin’s sure-footed, ultra slick dialogue with divine effect. Chastain is superfluous here, one that ought to have Academy voters take note. Elba is superb here also, bouncing back after the pitiful venture that was The Dark Tower. He has a grandstanding moment when he defends Molly with all his will to a couple of prosecutors of her tenacity and morality.
Molly wrestled with the patriarchy of powerful men while also contending with staying sustainable and maintaining both her identity as well as her integrity. Even without any sexual prowess looming over her uphill climb, she struggled with finding her place in the world after the world she felt she belonged in was stripped from her. “If you look down, that’s where you’ll go”, Molly says during her accident and from then on in she looks to find her footing, only people who were either clumsy or were intimidated by her made the journey more rigid.
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