Molly's Game

molly-game-rev Molly’s Game  (2017)    STX/Drama    RT: 140 minutes    Rated R (language, drug content, some violence)    Director: Aaron Sorkin    Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin    Music: Daniel Pemberton    Cinematography: Charlotte Bruus Christensen    Release date: December 25, 2017 (US, limited)/January 5, 2018 (US, wide)    Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, J.C. MacKenzie, Brian d’Arcy James, Bill Camp, Graham Greene, Samantha Isler, Justin Kirk, Angela Gots, Natalie Krill, Stephanie Herfield, Madison McKinley.

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 This year’s Best Actress race is one to watch with so many great performances. It’s going to be a tough call especially with only five slots to fill on the ballot. The most likely contenders are Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), Meryl Streep (The Post), Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) and Jessica Chastain for Molly’s Game. Chastain plays Molly Bloom, the real life “Poker Princess” who ran a high stakes poker game for ten years (eight in L.A., 2 in New York) before getting arrested by the FBI. Not everything she did was completely legal but to hear her tell it, it sounds as legit an operation as any small business that brings in millions of dollars.

 mollys gameI don’t know a lot about poker. I don’t know the lingo. I know nothing of strategy. I couldn’t tell a royal flush from a full house. Thankfully, we get a crash course as Molly learns it all from watching and Googling. Hosting poker games for the elite wasn’t her life’s dream. As a child, she was a top-level skier with dreams of competing in the Olympics. Actually, the dream was more her father’s (Costner, Dances with Wolves), a stern type who demands nothing less than perfection from his three children. In any event, the dream ends after she wipes out during qualifying runs. She decides to spend a year in L.A. before starting law school and that’s where her life takes an unexpected turn.

Molly gets a job as personal assistant to sleazy, foul-mouthed real estate agent Dean (Strong, The Big Short) who has her organize an exclusive weekly underground poker game for L.A.’s elite including a movie star identified only as “Player X” (Cera, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). This character is reportedly based on Tobey Maguire; once I learned this, I liked Cera’s performance better. Molly makes a lot of money in tips, something that angers her boss (who loses a lot of money) to the point of him firing her from her regular job and hostess gig. She gets back at him by starting up her own game and poaching all his players. It’s the start of a very successful business venture that falls apart due to several factors including drug addiction, “raking” (taking a cut of the winnings) and organized crime trying to muscle in.

 Much of Molly’s Game is told in flashback as Molly attempts to retain the services of high-powered New York attorney Charlie Jaffey (Elba, The Dark Tower). He doesn’t want to take the case at first but he changes his mind mid-arraignment. He urges her to cut a deal with prosecutors; all she has to do is give names. After all, she named four people in her book. Molly’s moral code prevents her from doing this as she doesn’t want to ruin lives. If she sticks to her guns, she’s looking at jail time. What’s a girl to do?

 I shouldn’t real call Molly a girl. She’s a powerful, intelligent, driven woman who commands attention and respect. In any given room, she’s the smartest. She can wheel and deal with the best. She dresses like a movie star. She’s also incredibly articulate. She means exactly what she says and says exactly what she means. She’s never at a loss for words. She’s quicker and far cleverer than the slickest player at her game. This is one lady you don’t mess with. A character like this is one of the trademarks of Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing and writer of The Social Network, making his directorial debut with Molly’s Game. One of the movie’s best aspects is the rat-a-tat dialogue between the two leads, both of whom do a terrific job. The chemistry between Chastain and Elba is electric. Watching them verbally spar is much more exciting than any sporting event. Costner is also quite good as the father who made Molly’s childhood a living hell. A psychiatrist, he knows how to emotionally abuse his kids. Too bad for him his daughter is a fighter. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t like Cera’s performance at first. I find him to be a one-note actor. He always seems to play annoying little twerps. Once I understood what he’s going for in Molly’s Game, I changed my opinion. I’ll say only this, don’t trust this guy, he’s an evil little twerp.

 I’m not going to divulge everything that happens in Molly’s Game but I will tell you that a lot happens. Many characters play a role in Molly’s story. Sorkin keeps things moving at a whirlwind place; I was reminded of Goodfellas and its narrative. It’s a slick production that doesn’t feel as long as it is (140 minutes). It’s consistently compelling and entertaining. Okay, so it loses its way a little near the end with a contrived scene between Molly and her father. It’s only a minor glitch. Molly’s Game is an otherwise great movie that crackles with energy from the first frame to the last. Chastain turns in one of her finest performances (if not her finest). GO SEE IT! 

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