Courtesy of STX Entertainment
With a career that has spanned decades, from numerous television shows, plays, movies, and eventual, much deserved, Oscar accolades, some had to wonder when Aaron Sorkin was going to dive behind the camera. His first directorial feature, "Molly's Game," - a true story about olympic skier turned poker shark, Molly Bloom - is a shining example of premiere Sorkin dialogue mixed with an intriguing story that amounts to what you'd expect.
The film runs a lengthy two hours and twenty minutes, but with Sorkin writing the screenplay it feels like 40. The man uses words like ammo in a shotgun, hitting us over the head with huge phrases and sentence structures that almost nobody would ever use. But we know that heading in, Sorkin's words are supposed to transport us to an alternative universe where people do talk like and act like this. And with that precedent in mind, "Molly's Game" is a slum dunk.
Jessica Chastain is about as flawless as you could get playing the titular character. In a fast paced, in your face, prologue, we get the glimpse of her life. She's a world class skier at the top of her game, only to have it crumble due to some small miscalcations. At first, it feels like another bloated "this is my story" internal voice speaking, which it is, but the payoff is terrific and before the opening title card comes across the screen, I knew this was bound to be something unique.
Fast forward 12 years and Molly is being arrested for her poker game schemes which we aren't privy to yet. She meets up with a hot-shot and expensive attorney for hire Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba in a fine supporting performance) to help her out of this rut. The charges against her span from over two years ago (and she's been clean ever since, so what gives?). The real meat of the story begins to transpire as she recounts the years we've been missing. Ms. Bloom is about as average as it gets in the beginning. Working for tips, trying to push her way through law school. When she catches the attention of a wealthy entrepreneur named Dean (Jeremy Strong) - who is willing to pay a hefty weekly salary, she jumps ship. Soon, she's running the books for his weekly poker game and is ranking in heavy cash flow. And keeping major secrets regarding the people who attend these games.
None of what's happening is strictly legal, but when Dean throws her out on her feet - she takes all of his players and starts her own poker lounge. Even for those unfamiliar with the game of poker, Sorkin does an astounding job at making sure you could, at least, follow along. His script, based off the book of the same name, does tiptoe around the edges a tad, and doesn't name all the famous celebrities and high profile businessmen who took place in these underground tourneys. The most fascinating character of that bunch belongs to Michael Cera (who is only referred to as "Player X"). For awhile, Cera has constantly been playing a parody of himself, and I doubt he's ever had a role this meaty and he chews up the dialogue like clockwork.
Like most films about gambling and illegal activities. Late in the second act, is where "Molly's Game" starts to whiff. It goes down the path of mob bosses, thugs, and people "getting what's coming to them." If you looked hard enough, I bet you'd find a Soprano walking around. A scene that involves Molly getting beaten to a pulp feels sour in a Sorkin picture, and Kevin Costner showing up at the last second to be a tool of convenience is questionable at best.
Nonetheless, Chastain does own the screen for the two plus hour mark and Elba shows layers with his rip-roaring dynamic that only aids the movie in the final scenes. If not for the second act shift tethering on the melodramatic, "Molly's Game" would've been perfect. Considering this is Sorkin's first stunt behind the camera, his strong writing makes most of that easily forgivable. "Molly's Game" is a solid film, I just wish it was a royal flush. B+