First Time Viewing: Molly’s Game (2017)

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✩

Jessica Chastian as Molly Bloom (left) discussing with attorney Charlie Jaffey played byIdris Elbra (right) appear together in ‘Molly’s Game’ (2017).

Aaron Sorkin is considered one of the most acclaimed screenwriters still working today. From A Few Good Men to The West Wing to The Social Network, Sorkin has written some of the most renowned works of the past few decades. I was first introduced to Sorkin’s complex and intricate writing in his Broadway adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. However, in his directorial debut, Aaron Sorkin does an astounding job of bringing the infamous true story of Molly Bloom to the silver screen in 2017’s  Molly’s Game.

The film follows the intelligent, young, and beautiful Olympic-class skier Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), who is arrested one night by 17 FBI agents for running an illegal gambling operation; however, it’s been 2 years since she’s even run a poker game. Millions of dollars in debt, Molly seeks help (and finds connection) from criminal defense attorney, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba). All the while, Molly reconciles with her past criminal activities, her complicated relationship with her father, and how she ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game.

Sorkin proves himself here to be a very competent and ambitious director, but where I really feel like this movie really shines is with it’s writing and editing. The film is so complex in not just it’s subject matter, but also the way it jumps back and forth in time in Molly’s life. There’s a heavy reliance on voice-over from Molly, and while that narrative device can feel very trite and like a lazy way to introduce the main characters, the narration here is necessary to both better understand Molly herself, as well as the intricate situations she gets herself involved in. The voice-over is also very important to understanding the rules of this underground poker world and what’s at stake. Above all that, the actual dialogue between characters is so intricately written, witty, and complex, that rarely is there a moment where the film slows down to take a breath or unravel what was just said.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about the editing. As I previously mentioned, the film is very fast-paced. Each scene has so much energy to it, with many of the poker scenes in Molly’s gambling days being standouts. The quick cut editing to and from the poker games combined with the beautiful and vibrant lighting, really help immerse you in this world and the spectacle of it all. The scenes between the past and Molly in the present also manage to have their own energy to them, which help the viewers distinguish between the past and present, which is useful as the film jumps back and forth quite often. The opening scene when Molly is getting ready for the ski competition, I think, perfectly sets up the fast-paced editing, quick, calculated, and intricate dialogue, as well as the intelligent and witty character of Molly. It’s absolutely brilliant.

All around I thought Molly’s Game was very well acted, though I would say there were 2-3 standouts. The first of which being Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom. I was first introduced to Chastain in her wonderful, Academy Award-nominated performance in The Help, and I believe that her performance in this is just as worthy of praise. Even in her voice-overs, she brings so much wit and charisma to each line, while also being able to convey everything she is feeling by a simple expression. Idris Elba was also incredible in this film as one of the top lawyers money can buy. And I think his work is even elevated by the impeccable chemistry between him and Chastain. The final performance I would like to praise is Kevin Costner as Molly Bloom’s father. There’s a particular scene towards the end with Molly and her father on a bench together that is so heartbreaking, but also emotionally satisfying for these two characters.

In terms of criticisms, there are only a few. The film isn’t too long (clocking in at 2 hrs and 21 minutes), but I feel like there were a few scenes that sort of dragged down the film’s pacing, especially considering how energetic and intense the other 93% of the film is. Likewise, the fast-paced nature of the film was also a bit of a detriment. It was at times hard to follow what was going on, especially where a lot of the legal/court scenes where Molly and Charlie Jaffey were concerned. I also understand that in real life there are no linear narratives, and that this film is based on a real person’s life. However, I think at times the film felt a little cluttered, especially when it comes to explaining and understanding all the crimes Molly committed and why she chooses not to expose certain figures from her past. That, combined with the complex legal language, made the film a bit confusing and unfocused. Finally, while the scene between Molly and her father is emotionally satisfying, it does feel very expositional and a bit contrived. 

Poinietly acted, cleverly written, and intricate edited, Molly’s Game proves itself a tour de force. Despite the few issues I’ve mentioned, Molly’s Game is a fascinating character study that is sure to keep you on your toes, and maybe even on the edge of your seat. Fans of crime/legal dramas will almost certainly find something to enjoy, while non-genre fans can look to the expert plotting, humorous moments, and at times emotional ones. 

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