Molly's Game Is Another Astutely Written Success From Aaron Sorkin
Gifted screenwriters like Aaron Sorkin come along once every generation or so. He’s the kind of man that has the aptitude to take a colloquy about pencil crayons and turn it into Pulitzer-worthy material with the ease of a sumo wrestler pushing a skinny old lady out of the circle. Given Sorkin’s grit for spewing copious quantities of rapid-fire banter in brazen defiance of the cardinal “show don’t tell” storytelling technique, it was only a matter of time until his inaugural foray into unfamiliar territory: directing. Some mighty fine directors have done wonders with his scripts and ensured their conversion to celluloid gold. But even absent the likes of David Fincher and Danny Boyle, I could barely contain the anticipation of a final product in which the venerable Aaron Sorkin assumes full creative control over his own vision.
Cunning, articulate, stoic, and ambitious, former Olympic level skier and prospective Harvard-educated lawyer Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) is as intelligent as she is beautiful. We initially meet her character as she comes under federal indictment for her illicit high-stakes poker operation. The FBI are more concerned with the involvement of the Russian mob in the games, all of which traces back to Molly. Enlightening her lawyer Charles Jaffey (Idris Elba) as to how this all happened, Molly takes the viewers to back to square one: From the skiing freak accident that significantly changed the trajectory of her life, her odd job as an assistant for a small-time Hollywood bottom-feeder named Dean (Jeremy Strong) which developed into hosting underground games for Hollywood elites, to rebelliously sassing her demanding psychologist father Larry (Kevin Costner) during her youth.
“Molly’s Game” is slightly thin on subtext, but I believe the thematic linchpins are competition and morality. “Dog eat dog everyday, on our fellow man we prey” is a self-explanatory line from a song by The Offspring called “Genocide”. It’s no secret that ultimate survival in this God-forsaken place we call home is propelled by the need to be on top of fellow species who are pursuing the same thing. Competition in its cruelest form results in the destruction of human life and yes, even death. In the underground world of illicit high-stakes poker where millions of dollars can be earned or flushed down the drain in a flash, morals drown in a sea of greed, chicanery, and grandiosity.
To me, “Molly’s Game” is about the struggle to preserve a moral high ground in an ugly, amoral business driven by dangerous competition. Thanks to her wits, Molly survived her slave job as Dean’s assistant and went on to run a multimillion dollar enterprise. She also enabled gambling addiction, made some questionable choices, drew the attention of the mob, yet she never abused her power. Molly also refused to give up emails that would incriminate other clients and get her off the hook with the feds. Molly’s genuine desire to minimize harm is practically what drove her lawyer to defend her with such conviction in what is possibly the most terrifically written monologue I have seen in years. She is even seen by her lawyer’s young daughter as an exemplar in a faulty capitalist system.
My small gripes with “Molly’s Game” took place in the film’s slightly uneven final quarter. One particular cathartic scene involving Molly and her father seems to be the most common grievance among professional critics. Eloquently written and splendidly delivered as it is, for me it was also a rather superficial way of settling a conflict that has lasted a lifetime for Molly. Given that Molly’s relationship with her father is an allegory for her lifelong confrontations with powerful alpha males, I was expecting a bit more. Moreover, a rather anticlimactic courtroom scene near this film’s conclusion was a pretty hasty way of wrapping things up, which was slightly disappointing given the momentum generated by the majority of “Molly’s Game”.
Jessica Chastain once again proves that she is a force to be reckoned with; her performance is worthy of a golden statue and is quite possibly her finest since “Zero Dark Thirty”. Chastain razes through her demanding role like a scalding hot knife through butter, effortlessly walking a tricky line between vulnerable and invincible. With Molly’s exceedingly advantageous intelligence and uncanny ability to understand human behavior in conjunction with its subtleties, Chastain superbly allows her character to stand with full confidence as the brightest bulb in the box. She is by no means impermeable to every hand that’s dealt her way though; Molly’s weaponized eminence which she uses to draw men into her games is a double-edged sword. Even with millions of bucks practically at her fingertips, just the slightest crack in that sheath of hers will open an opportunity for someone to destroy her. This is denoted by her coming at odds with the ambitions of the predatory Player X (Michael Cera), who notes that he only partakes in poker games to destroy lives.
Idris Elba radiantly shines as Charles Jaffey. As much as his lengthy, wit-ridden discussions with Molly will keep you superglued to the screen, it’s Jaffey’s brief interactions with his preteen daughter that are especially noteworthy; he appears to be a demanding father. At this point the film is begging the viewer make the juxtaposition with the young Molly Bloom under the tutelage of her father. It’s Aaron Sorkin’s shrewd manner of examining the notions of competitive fortitude and patriarchal inspiration. Perhaps it’s the domineering attitude of Molly’s father that fostered her resilience to the majority of curveballs that life threw at her?
All in all, I found Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut to be a solid, astutely penned, thought-provoking, and unrelentingly entertaining biography and cautionary tale. Much akin to Sorkin’s characters, Molly’s Game does contain a few notable foibles. But like the stars of his scripts, there’s no denying the value brought to the table. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, “Molly’s Game” is a lengthy sit, but I assure you that Sorkin’s savvy screenplay and the cast’s strong performances will keep that hefty momentum going at a steady rate for the wide majority of the runtime. If you’re a fan of cerebral dialogue, then I recommend giving “Molly’s Game” a watch immediately.
My score: 8/10
© 2018 Rami Nawfal