Movie Review: “Molly’s Game”
Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) had a tough father growing up. Her father, Larry Bloom (Kevin Costner), pushed her to the absolute limit in every aspect of her life. He did this so that Molly never felt disadvantaged by being a girl in a male dominated world. He pushed her hard in school and pushed her harder in skiing. It was a tough childhood but it brought her to the Olympics where she would ski for the United States. She was a great skier but an unfortunate accident caused her to fall while the whole world was watching and it did permanent damage to her spine.
Molly tries to find her new place in the world and finds herself working for a shady man named Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong). Dean takes a liking to Molly and decides to give her a side job as a hostess for a high-stakes poker night. Molly quickly becomes obsessed with the game and the boost in her income. She has no interest in playing, but soon finds herself running a more exclusive, higher stakes poker night. She has built quite the reputation and has caught the attention of the FBI, who arrest her for illegal gambling. Molly ran a clean game but could be facing serious jail time if she is found guilty, so she seeks the help of a reputable lawyer, named Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), to prove her innocence.
The Pros & Cons
Jessica Chastain & Molly Bloom (+10pts)
Poker Heavy (-2pts)
Layman’s Terms (+3pts)
Long & Slow (-5pts)
Idris Elba (+6pts)
Pro: Jessica Chastain & Molly Bloom (+10pts)
I found Molly Bloom to be an interesting woman in this film. She worked hard her entire life and had everything ripped away from her due to an accident. She then becomes a powerful and well respected head of a very exclusive, very high stakes poker night. Yet through everything she maintains her morality and self-respect. She is a strong woman and an interesting character to watch.
She is made even more interesting by the actress playing her. Jessica Chastain may be one of the best actresses working today. Whenever I see that she is in a movie, I know that it is a movie I have to see. She always plays compelling characters and she plays them very well. She adds depth and creates characters that are fascinating for me to watch. Molly’s Game is just another example of the great talent of this actress.
Con: Poker Heavy (-2pts)
This story has poker in it, but it is not about poker. The story is about Molly Bloom and the trouble she found herself in due to the exclusive poker games she organized. I felt that the filmmakers got a little caught up in the poker element. This was a poker heavy movie. Molly Bloom did not play poker but we, as an audience, watch characters playing poker and we learn about poker throughout the duration of the movie. Through all of this, I could not help but feel that it was a little irrelevant.
We have seen great poker movies before, but what made this movie interesting was its unique main character. Molly Bloom has a one-of-a-kind story and this movie was at its best when it was focusing on her transformation. There was a lot of fact- heavy, poker dialogue that, I felt, distracted from what made this movie unique. There needed to be some poker flavor in this movie, but I thought the filmmakers gave it a little too much focus which took time away from the character development of Molly Bloom.
Pro: Layman’s Terms (+3pts)
I thought the movie was a little poker heavy, but I thought it did a great job at explaining what was happening to audiences that know very little about poker (like myself). I have a very limited knowledge of poker. I know that “full house” means something other than a hit sitcom from the early 90’s, and I know that getting a “flush” does not mean the player needs to use the bathroom. While I know that these possible poker hands, I do not know exactly what they are.
Why am I explaining my poker illiteracy? I want to paint an accurate picture before I explain that I never felt lost during this movie. At the film’s start, Molly Bloom knows very little about poker and is being introduced to the game on screen. The only terms, that the audience needs to know, are explained (through narration) by Molly. The movie had a lot of poker but it, very effectively, explains the necessary poker terminology to its audience.
Con: Long & Slow (-5pts)
I liked the movie, do not get me wrong, but I felt that it was about thirty minutes too long. The movie is slow-paced and, while that is not necessarily a bad thing, it made this movie feel longer than it was. The movie has three major elements. It has the character development of Molly Bloom, poker, and the lawsuit.
We learn about Molly‘s childhood and her relationship with her father. We also see her introduced to and studying the game of poker. All of this is narrated by Molly, as she is telling her whole story to Jaffey (her lawyer). Molly will talk about things fron her childhood, then switch to talking about poker. The transition is a quick scene of dialogue between Molly and Jaffey as he asks her another question. I liked all three elements of the movie but I think this format of storytelling (with constant transitions between periods of time) made the movie feel choppy, sluggish, and long where a linear story (without transitions) may have served this story better.
Pro: Idris Elba (+6pts)
What can I say? This guy is great. If you have not seen Idris Elba before, then you owe it to yourself to watch the television series The Wire, Luther, and the Thor movies. Idris Elba is a great actor with a great on-screen presence. I cannot quite put a finger on it, but he is always able to add unique flavor to his projects (movies or series). This flavor is unique to him, and is always exciting to watch. He is a great actor and this movie is no different. In Molly’s Game, Idris Elba plays Charlie Jaffey, a reputable lawyer who is trying to decide if he should take Molly’s case.
Charlie is highly moral and is trying to be a positive role model for his daughter. He does not believe that Molly is innocent or the kind of person that his daughter should look up to. Molly must try to convince him otherwise. This is really the plot of the movie. Through all the poker and narrated flashbacks, the real plot is Molly trying to change Charlie’s mind. With all the distractions from the main plot, the actor playing Charlie needs to be charismatic and memorable. Idris Elba is just that. He never overshadows Jessica Chastain, it is her movie, but he plays a great complementary character that will draw attention to the main plot while moving it along. Idris Elba plays this role perfectly.
Con: Anti-Climactic (-4pts)
I cannot speak for everyone, but I did not know Molly Bloom’s story before seeing this movie. More specifically, I did not know the ending of the movie before it happened. As a result, I found that the ending pretty anti-climactic. This movie is a bit of a slow burn, as we get about two hours worth of rising action. Molly’s story just keeps building and building, growing more intense as we learn more about what Molly has gotten herself into.
Then the movie just throws the climax out there, and it kind of kills all of the intensity that was built so well over the course of the two hours. If you are like me, you will be asking yourself things like “Wait, really?”, ”That’s it?”, and you will be wondering why you just sat through two hours of rising action for that ending. The rising action of the movie is interesting and worth seeing, but the climax sort of drops the ball here. I know this is based on a true story, but the filmmakers made a movie out of it, so the movie’s story needs to work all the way around.
Grade: B- (83pts)
Molly’s Game tells the interesting story of Molly Bloom. Watching the transformation of this character was compelling and watching Jessica Chastain in the role made it even better. Jessica Chastain never disappoints and this movie is further proof of that. In this movie she plays a strong, confident, young woman who (after her Olympic accident) goes through quite the transformation into the cunning woman who would run an incredibly exclusive and high stakes poker game. Jessica Chastain plays this character with inspiring strength and willpower. The movie is compelling largely in part to the talented actress.
Jessica Chastain is joined by Idris Elba, who gives the movie the unique flavor that only he can, while giving Jessica Chastain a great complementary character. The movie tends to lean a little too heavily into the poker aspect of the story. The story is about Molly Bloom, not poker, but poker gets a huge focus in the movie. This, coupled with Molly’s narration and flashbacks, ends up becoming a bit of a distraction from the movie’s strength. Molly Bloom has a fascinating story and this movie is at its best when it is focusing on her character development. It is a decent movie but seemed to struggle with trying to tell Molly Bloom’s story while appealing to a wide audience. It is not a perfect movie but I think it is a movie worth seeing.