Molly’s Game (2018)

Molly Bloom doesn’t trust in marriage. She doesn’t look up to anyone, doesn’t believe in role models, feeling she would fill the position too well herself. She is determined, self-possessed and extraordinarily smart.

And she speaks in “Sorkinese”, that language familiar to any viewer of such esteemed products as A Few Good Men, The West Wing, or The Social Network.

Molly’s Game is Aaron Sorkin’s impressive debut directorial effort. Probably the most respected (and certainly the most famous) writer in Hollywood today, his dialogue is famous for its speed, wit, and, especially its razor-sharp intelligence. His mouthpieces are lawyers, politicians, tech gurus. In this case, it is an Olympic-class skier turned poker queen.

Based on a true story, Molly’s Game begins two years since the title character (played by Jessica Chastain) had her illegal high-stakes game shut down and her earnings seized by the FBI. Now they’re back again, this time indicting her for the much more serious crime of involvement with New York’s Russian Mafia.

A desperate Molly finds her only defense in attorney Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), hand-picked by her for not possessing the slightest bit of “shadiness”. But Molly is a reluctant defendant. She is unwilling to divulge secrets, to her lawyer’s great vexation, even if it would save her prison time. Despite himself, Charlie believes in her all the same, and she begins to tell her story.

From the opening moments, Sorkin’s film moves like a rocket. The pacing is irresistible, so too are the quiet moments. At two-hours and twenty minutes, it doesn’t feel in the least bloated. It’s very funny. It has beats, pauses, and then it takes off again. Molly’s story is remarkable. From a failed athlete to a law-school hopeful, she stumbles into poker running, and is very, very good at it. She’s not criminal, she’s curious. Compassionate, even. Soon she has the most prized game in the country. Bets are in the millions. And then it becomes dangerous.

As her tale is unfolding in flashback, the present realities of the impending indictment are closing in, like the witch hunters in The Crucible, referenced here several times. But the question of what will happen to her is not the most important one. At the heart of this film is the question put to Molly by her severe father (Kevin Costner): why did she, a hyper-intelligent, acutely savvy young woman choose this life, when she could have done anything else?

This is not a mafia movie. There is a black and gold opulence that frames the background, but the glamour is not exploited for easy sex appeal (Molly’s Playboy Pet employees notwithstanding). The richness of the film is in its relational connections. At times, Aaron Sorkin’s writing has been accused of being overly clever, in love with its own brilliance, at the expense of real character. He is also sometimes disregarded as having an idealism at odds with the times. These complaints don’t find footing here. This is a movie about a young woman from a broken family, and her quest to find purpose. Whether she finds it or not, it is a touching journey to go on with her.

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