Molly's Game

 

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Jessica Chastain excels as the real-life ‘poker princess’ Molly Bloom in Aaron Sorkin’s articulate 

directorial debut.

 

Molly's Game
  

Molly’s game was poker. It was once competitive skiing, but all that stopped when, following a freak accident, she suffered rapid onset scoliosis. She was, though, a player – and a savvy and ambitious one. After working as a hostess for someone else’s poker game, she set up her own high-stakes enterprise at a high-end hotel and was soon entertaining movie stars, real-estate magnates, sporting legends and top-drawer aristocrats. And considering the world in which she was operating, she was a surprisingly moral operator. When the FBI took her down and she was looking at a life behind bars, she refused to name names – not Ben Affleck, not Leonardo DiCaprio…

 

There are three reasons for seeing Molly’s Game. One is the extraordinary true story on which the film is based. Another is that it marks the directorial debut of the writer Aaron Sorkin, he who penned A Few Good Men, The West Wing, The Social Network and Steve Jobs. And the third is because Jessica Chastain is playing Molly Bloom. Chastain was nominated for an Oscar for The Help, as a dumb blonde from Mississippi, and was also a gun-toting Mossad agent in The Debt and the wife of Coriolanus in Ralph Fiennes’ adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy. More recently she was the single-minded, pill-popping high-achiever Elizabeth Sloane in John Madden’s whip-smart, dialogue-driven Miss Sloane. She was brilliant, of course, and walked off with her fourth Golden Globe nomination. Here, she’s playing another single-minded, pill-popping high-achiever and for the first time the actress seems to be repeating herself. But how could she resist a part like Molly Bloom?

 

Aaron Sorkin uses words like bullets and language like an armoury and here his dialogue is as finely polished as ever. But sometimes Sorkin is too smart for his own good – real people are seldom as articulate as his keyboard. Of course, you could say the same about Chastain’s Virgilia in Coriolanus (“He `ld make an end of thy posterity”), so one can but just sit back and enjoy the show. A stand-out sequence is a showdown between Molly and her father, Larry (Kevin Costner), conducted on a bench in Central Park. There is some tension and things need to be said. “I can see you’re getting warmed up,” she tells him. But, “I really don’t have the emotional bandwidth to defend my – as usual – irresponsible behaviour.” He: “I’m not here in my capacity as your father. I’m indifferent to whether your father lives or dies. I’m a very expensive therapist and I’m here to give you one free session.” Great repartee – but not something that real people might utter.

 

Some might also complain that Sorkin’s film is too long (it’s 140 minutes), but as a life story it’s about the perfect length. Chastain holds the screen with her towering intelligence and empathy, and Costner, so good in last year’s Hidden Figures, is back on terrific form. There’s excellent support, too, from Idris Elba, Chris O’Dowd, Jeremy Strong and Graham Greene. However, it’s the dialogue that lingers in the mind, from a misunderstanding over James Joyce’s Ulysses to the fact that the centre of the universe smells like rum and raspberries.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, Bill Camp, Graham Greene, Whitney Peak.

 

Dir Aaron Sorkin, Pro Mark Gordon, Amy Pascal and Matt Jackson, Screenplay Aaron Sorkin, based on Molly's Game: From Hollywood's Elite to Wall Street's Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker by Molly Bloom Ph Charlotte Bruus Christensen, Pro Des David Wasco, Ed Alan Baumgarten, Elliot Graham and Josh Schaeffer, Music Daniel Pemberton, Costumes Susan Lyall.

 

Huayi Brothers Pictures/The Mark Gordon Company/Pascal Pictures/Ciwen Pictures-Entertainment One.

140 mins. USA/China. 2017. Rel: 1 January 2018. Cert. 15.