31 Days, 31 Movies 12/25: Molly’s Game
I love movies. I love TV, books, music, video games, podcasts, videos of other people playing video games, the first 20 seconds and the last minute of house tracks that no one ever hears, this, this, definitely whatever this is, and Buzzfeed Worth It videos even though they always pick the middle one. But most of all I love movies. It seems like someone may have made Molly’s Game in a lab just for me. I would watch Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba do anything. I’ve seen both Miss Sloane and A Hundred Streets you’ve never met anyone that’s seen either of those movies and I’ve seen both—that is the kind of degenerate you’re dealing with. Chastain wears a lot of cocktail dresses and I love a slinky dress. It is also a movie about a badass woman who ran the biggest poker game in LA and New York and I fucking love poker. Aaron Sorkin is one of my favorite writers of all time; I unapologetically love The Newsroom and Sports Night is still an all-timer. It also has a really chivalric speech which I’m always a sucker for. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, I mean it has Kevin Costner in it, but fuck if I didn’t enjoy this movie.
Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut is an unsurprising triumph. He has always had a great sense for scenes of witty dialogue and buzzing montages. And when Molly’s Game isn’t Jessica Chastain trading repartee with one self-important man after another it’s rapidly edited scenes of poker and money speak. Sorkin knows what he does well and brings it all to the table in Molly’s Game. The voiceover is an unavoidable tool in Molly’s Game so much of the story exists in reflective narration by Molly Bloom but it is always my stance that voiceover should be used sparingly and only when absolutely necessary. Sorkin leans too heavily on the voiceover in the film where instead he could let loose his excellent cast. For example, there are multiple moments where a Jessica Chastain voiceover says some version of, “and this is when it got really bad,” only for things to get bad a minute later. Unless used for comedic purposes this is a crutch in screenwriting that Sorkin has proved himself to be above. We are all watching the movie, we promise to notice when things to in fact “get really bad” without warning. But the sheer breakneck speed with which Sorkin and his two stars move through the film paints over many of the narrative flaws in the film. There is one major issues with the film that even Chastain and Elba cannot paper over with their charisma. Everything to do with Molly Bloom’s father, played by Kevin Costner amounts to nothing. There is a cute little bow that Costner gets to tie on the end of the movie in an oddly contrived ending that stems from Bloom running into her father in New York City, a city in which neither of them live. It is hard to lay all the blame for Larry Bloom at the feet of Costner because the character is all cliché and little substance but it is hard to picture this movie not being at least slightly improved with Paul Reiser in the Costner role. This is my hot take for today, all late stage Kevin Costner movies are better if they’re Paul Reiser instead—Molly’s Game especially. The end as a whole, while possibly accurate to the real events, just feels to Sorkinian even for me. The end is so righteous and just and the good and the smart guys win I love it, but like a lot of Sorkin’s more grandiose work the more you think about it the more ridiculous it seems. I would love to live in a world where black lawyers and native American judges deliver monologues about how the good should not be punished as an example to the bad and how all it takes is one virtuous man to turn the callous judicial into something that can serve the people. But that is not the world we live in.
All plot and narrative and clunky Christmas Carol endings aside Molly’s Game is only ever as good as its two stars and its two stars are especially good. Chastain delivers her best performance since Zero Dark Thirty flawlessly playing the driven and cunning Molly Bloom. Who by all rights seems like she should really only exist in this movie but was somehow a real person. It doesn’t hurt Chastain’s performance either that she looks fantastic in an evening dress; actually the only person more enjoyable to look at in the movie is Idris Elba. Elba isn’t given a lot to do, the majority of the focus of the film is on Bloom’s life and her poker games and the legal troubles are more of a backdrop, but when he does get a scene he and his Armani suit steal the show. His speech on Molly’s behalf to the FBI is unbelievable sure but he delivers it with such passion and gravitas that it is the highlight of the film.
Aaron Sorkin impresses in his first time behind the camera and with his signature mile-a-minute dialogue and quick-witted protagonists he takes the real life story of Molly Bloom and makes it something special. Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba are in rare form and their chemistry is palpable, my only dissatisfaction is that there aren’t more scenes of the two of them in Molly’s Game.