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.
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.