Posted Jan 03 2018
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Molly's Game - This Sorkin Movie Rocks

Dir: Aaron Sorkin

Starring Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Chris O'Dowd

If there was any risk in Aaron Sorkin turning director – he couldn’t have picked a better screenwriter. The man – and we the audience – are in safe hands here, as we see from his pre-credit recap of the younger life of Molly Bloom, at that point on her way to becoming an Olympic skiing contender. Narrated in a burst of typical Sorkin dialogue by Chastain over a swathe of images that take Bloom’s story and rapidly, and wittily, plays it out over a brief cultural guide to the events of the times and more – all leading towards a great gag - this is an attention grabbing opening, to a movie that soon settles into a groove that is not necessarily so breakneck, but still unmistakably the work of very probably the world’s most well know screenwriter who isn’t named Quentin.

What follows is Molly Bloom’s second act, when skiing was no longer an option, and she moved to California. Here she soon finds herself running an elite poker game, a game that she soon takes over and ups the stakes on. A true story, adapted by Sorkin from Bloom’s own titular book, Molly found herself playing host to the rich and powerful including many Hollywood A-listers – thus Michael Cera is (allegedly) in for a fairly unpleasant Tobey Maguire, there’s a guy who looks like Ben Affleck (but is here changed to a rock star) and more than you can have fun guessing the identities of.

Also prominently on the scene – but not playing cards – is Idris Elba as the lawyer reluctantly defending Bloom.

As a first time director Sorkin wisely knows he can rely on his first class script. And he does. Eschewing what has become his now trademark “walk and talk,” Sorkin sticks firmly with the “talk,” creating some electrifying scenes between Chastain and Elba, that are as much plot driven as character revealing. And, as with all his work, his use of industry speak is handled with ease – just as you didn’t need to know anything about programming to fully grasp The Social Network, you don’t need to have ever played a hand of poker to keep up with the machinations on display here. What Sorkin does – and always does brilliantly – is to convince you that his characters know the intricacies of what they’re doing and saying, so you can just relax and trust them to tell you the story. (Think back to The West Wing when they discussed Bartlett as “the real deal” – you didn’t need to know their definition, you just knew that it meant something to those saying it.)

As you would expect, actors love Sorkin’s dialogue and everyone here rises to those challenges. Chastain is superb, but there is (up to the third act at least) the feeling that maybe too much of her performance is being delivered in the voice over. The same cannot be said for both Elba and Costner. The former gets his grandstanding moments, one lengthy speech in particular, and, boy, does the man go for it. It’s a moment that leaps off the screen and may well be the actor’s finest work to date. More low-key, but equally effecting, is Costner’s performance as Bloom’s distant father. His big scene late in the movie may as well have the legend “Oscar clip” flashing all over it. And it’s suitably brilliant, again a mixture of Sorkin’s erudite use of language and pure, honest emotion. There should be tears.

Indeed, both men are worthy of finding themselves in the Best Supporting category come next February (hopefully they won’t cancel each other out.)

Molly’s Game proves that Aaron Sorkin makes for a very decent director. Then again, he had good material to work with.

 

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