ShareThis Page

Review: 'Molly's Game' worth the ante

| Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, 11:42 a.m.

The screenwriter Aaron Sorkin makes his directorial debut with "Molly's Game," and it's a promising one at that. Swift, stylish, tough-minded and sharp-tongued, this engaging fact-based drama, about a young woman who at one point ran the richest poker game in the world, is worth recommending if only to see its star, Jessica Chastain, at the top of her nerviest, most icily self-controlled game.

Chastain plays Molly Bloom, who despite her fictional-sounding name was a real-life woman who was a highly ranked competitive skier before she moved to Los Angeles in the early 2000s. There, she came under the tutelage of an ambitious real estate investor and impresario who organized weekly poker games for the likes of Tobey Maguire, Ben Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio, among other high rollers.

Watchful, dispassionate and preternaturally immune to the flirtations of the wealthy men in her orbit, Molly learned the ropes, struck out on her own and, inevitably, flew too close to the sun, eventually running afoul of the Russian mob and the U.S. government.

Adapted by Sorkin from Bloom's memoir with the screenwriter's signature percussive eclat, "Molly's Game" provides a crisp, rapid-fire tutorial, not just in the psychosocial dynamics of the elite gambling world, but in Molly's own demons and almost pathological drive — which we learn right away have their roots in a difficult relationship with her demanding father, played with crusty reserve by Kevin Costner.

As a protagonist, Molly's an almost irresistible archetype: bright, competitive, charismatic and deeply wounded.

It's the kind of character Chastain has played before, in such films as "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Miss Sloane" Here, Chastain adds dashes of vulnerability and compassion that turn an otherwise downbeat, even pitiless story into something, if not inspiring, at least slightly more meaningful than a dramatic fall from grace.

Sorkin does a terrific job of evoking the hothouse atmosphere of card games that might sound glamorous when boldface names are involved but also reek with the pitiful, dope-sick air of thinly veiled compulsion.

Michael Cera delivers a slyly arrogant performance as a swaggering actor who may or may not be based on Maguire. Far more compelling are regulars played by Bill Camp, Brian d'Arcy James and Chris O'Dowd, who personify the most sobering realities of the addiction that Molly exploits just as surely as if she were shooting them up every night.

Edited with alacrity and punctuated by "Big Short"-ish montages and illustrative asides, "Molly's Game" bristles with brittle intelligence that gives way to blunt-force comeuppance as Molly's position becomes more perilous. The action slows down a bit when she's in conference with her attorney, played by Idris Elba in a turn that relieves the snap-crackle-pop vibe with silky, seductive frissons.

"Molly's Game" only lets the air out of the balloon toward the end, during a pivotal encounter in Central Park that spells everything way too obviously, even for the cheap seats that Sorkin so often refuses to pander to. That's when viewers might realize that, as entertaining as the tale has been, every character in the film seems to have spoken in the same cadence, with Sorkin's own operatic self-assurance, humor and perfectly turned phraseology.

Still, "Molly's Game" is worth the ante: It pays off, both as slick, adult-oriented entertainment and morality tale.

Ann Hornaday is a Washington Post writer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me