It is hard for me to believe that in his long writing career, Aaron Sorkin has never once had the desire to direct, and that includes every episode of The West Wing, Sports Night and other series he created and wrote, along with such bellwether movies as Moneyball, Steve Jobs, Charlie Wilson’s War and The Social Network, which earned him an Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Most of his movies revolve around real people and real stories, and such is the case with Molly’s Game, his latest and one of his greatest. It also marks the breakthrough for Sorkin as a director, and he has done a remarkable job of bringing it to the screen.
As I say in my video review above, Sorkin knew this was a script he had to shoot himself, as it centers on Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a champion skier growing up who completely switched gears and became notorious for running some of the highest-profile poker games ever. Celebrities, royalty, high rollers and eventually even the Russian mob were part of these games in L.A. and Vegas. But it all came crashing down when the FBI closed in and Molly wound up buried in legal problems, eventually becoming a convicted felon. But this isn’t a film about crime, nor is it really one about poker.
Based on Bloom’s 2013 memoir, but given much added weight by Sorkin’s smart adaptation, Molly’s Game really is more of an original screenplay about pride, fathers and daughters, protecting your name, and gaining a sense of self-worth over power and money. The book Bloom wrote actually becomes part of Sorkin’s script, as her lawyer says at one point that she wrote it too early and “should have waited for the good part.” The good part is indeed this movie, which details several phases of Molly’s life from her early days as an Olympic-class skier to the making and breaking of her poker career — a game she didn’t play — to her dealings with her lawyer Charlie (Idris Elba, playing a composite of her real lawyers) and the legal hell she went through, to her complicated relationship with her father (Kevin Costner).
Chastain has the best role of her impressive career to date as Molly, and navigates Sorkin’s signature extensive dialogue, and in this case, voice-over narration used as a very effective device to enable Molly to tell her story as it unfolds. Chastain simply is astonishing as she assumes the mantle of this unsinkable Molly Bloom with a force that never strikes a false note. Her scenes opposite an equally fine Elba as her lawyer are high drama at its finest. The pair both deserve Oscar nominations, and I would throw in another one for Costner in the smaller supporting turn as her father, particularly for a killer park bench scene with his daughter near the end. Every actor in the movie is right on point, but Sorkin demonstrates that he knows how to get authentic performances that never go over the top. And even though the film is not a “poker movie,” per se, Sorkin has managed to shoot the various poker scenes in novel ways that rival what you might see on ESPN, explain the game as it is happening, and watch it all from the inside. Although at times it seems like there is almost too much explanation, it doesn’t matter. Sorkin’s words are dazzling, and so is the movie he has made.
Producers are Mark Gordon, Amy Pascal and Matt Jackson. STX Entertainment platforms the movie on Christmas Day, with a wider release planned for January to capitalize on hoped-for awards action. It already has been nominated for Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice awards for Chastain as well as Sorkin’s script.
Do you plan to see Molly’s Game? Let us know what you think.