Hemingway had a phrase: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” If Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) ever needed a mantra, I’d offer her that.
Diagnosed with early-onset scoliosis, Bloom blew out her back at the age of thirteen. Less than a year later, she was competing in downhill skiing. A decade later, a one-in-a-million frozen tree branch dislodged her ski during an Olympic qualifying event, spraying Bloom all over the slope and ending her competitive career.
A year later, Bloom landed in Los Angeles penniless but quickly found work as a cocktail waitress. Then as a personal assistant, then as the organizer of his weekly high-stakes poker game. When he (Jeremy Strong) felt Bloom was earning too much money, he fired her from her job and the game.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Bloom partnered with an A-list celebrity, Player X (Michael Cera, most likely standing in for Tobey Maguire), and started her own high-stakes game. When that game got too big, Player X pulled his connections. Bloom moved east to New York City and started another game, this time for more money and with more success.
But every time Bloom got too good, made too much money, or flaunted her success, men, powerful men, pulled the plug, and Bloom had to start from scratch. The world broke Bloom, but Bloom found a way to strengthen those broken places.
In an unfortunately obvious way, Molly’s Game—based on Bloom’s memoir, Molly’s Game: The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive, High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World—explores the gender gap of power while telling a salacious story of powerful men with dirty little secrets and the women who keep them.
The majority of Molly’s Game is told with the energy and punch of a pulp novel, deliciously recounted by Chastain in detailed voiceover narration; the kind Molly’s lawyer, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), reads while preparing his defense.
Jaffey is a good lawyer, a good man, possibly the last one left, and, most importantly to Bloom, a good father. Jaffey has no delusions; he knows what he’s up against; he’s just trying to dig his way to the rotten core of the case. While he does, writer/director Aaron Sorkin plays Freud and digs into Bloom’s.
Sorkin, known for his punch, edge, and grand speeches, values style over naturalism, and with the many speeches and exchanges, he gets it. However, in Molly’s Game, Sorkin steps behind the camera to direct and shows the limitations of style over substance. Nothing looks overtly bad, but the camera placement is haphazard, and the edits are either too fast or too slow.
But these technical issues don’t come close to derailing Molly’s Game like the movie’s third act deus ex machina does. In roughly three minutes, a long-forgotten character explains the movie in painful detail and offers an unconvincing explanation, essentially letting the air out of the balloon with one deflating whoosh. Well, at least it was fun while it lasted.
Molly’s Game (2017)
Written for the screen and directed by Aaron Sorkin
Based on the book by Molly Bloom
Produced by Mark Gordon, Matt Jackson, Amy Pascal
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, Brian d’Arcy James, Graham Greene
STX Entertainment, Rated R, Running time 140 minutes, Opens December 25, 2017