Molly’s Game Review: Aaron Sorkin Goes All In

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Few screenwriters in history have achieved such a high level of fame through screenwriting alone as Aaron Sorkin. But then nobody before him ever wrote dialogue as snappy and quick-witted while maintaining an honest, emotional sincerity. Molly’s Game, his directorial debut, speaks to just about all of his sensibilities. The film is all Sorkin all the time to the point where he’s as much of the star of the film as Jessica Chastain merely through his writing. But what worked best about The Social Network and Steve Jobs were how other auteurs used Sorkin’s words to boost their own artistry. Here, he’s chosen to do all the work, and the result is very much a mixed bag.

It’d be flat-out wrong, however, to say Molly’s Game isn’t entertaining. It’s a feminist Goodfellas set in the world of underground high-stakes Texas Hold ‘Em with players at the table ranging from huge movie stars to trust-fund babies to Russian monsters. The true story of how former pro-skier Molly Bloom (Chastain) moved to LA and eventually worked her way into this insanely prolific poker ring, while keeping things legal by taking only accepting tips, is wildly entertaining. But the script never really digs into Molly, opting instead to have her explain everything in monotone narration and eventually have all her problems mansplained back to her without coming to any self-realization on her own. Chastain, surprisingly, plays Molly fairly one-note, giving her a simple strength and a simple warmth to make her easily likable, but devoid of nuance. So that leaves Sorkin’s dialogue to carry the film’s entertainment value, which it does a pretty admirable job of.

The middle of Molly’s Game is infectious and riveting, simply because Molly Bloom’s story is legitimately interesting and unpredictable, and Sorkin’s ability to turn “interesting” into “fun” is practically unparalleled. The film’s flashback structure gives necessary insight into where she ends up, bargaining with a high-profile lawyer (Idris Elba, almost identical to Kate Winslet’s character in Steve Jobs) for representation, intercut with her incredible rise and subsequent downward spiral.

But Sorkin tells Molly’s story with such an emotional gusto that it derails much of the character’s complications, in favor of making her out to be a classic Sorkin American hero (or, to put simply, cheesy). For such a complex story, the film takes us to simple emotional places, leaving us with an ambiguity about Molly only hinted at onscreen when that feels like a pretty big part of the story. But then this is a film where Kevin Costner is cast as Molly’s father, sporting a hard-as-nails exterior to hide the softness inside (honestly, he probably gives the best performance of the film). This is to say that Molly’s Game isn’t trying to explore the ethics of its titular character’s actions, it wants to tell a true story in a manner that makes the audiences’ eyes well up at the end, only Sorkin has the characters verbally skewer each other every other scene. It’s a film by Sorkin and maybe even for Sorkin, and all the good and bad that comes with that. But even so, it’s an undeniably enjoyable ride. Grade: B-

By Matt Dougherty

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