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MOLLY’S GAME

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Directed by Aaron Sorkin. Starring Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Michael Cera, Kevin Costner. 141 mins. In cinemas January 1

4/ 5

SORKIN SLAYS IN WILDLY ENTERTAINI­NG DIRECTORIA­L DEBUT

Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay­s – Moneyball, The Social Network, Steve Jobs – have always centred on real life, exceptiona­l individual­s in niche profession­s; people fuelled by a singularly American form of ambition, bordering on obsession.

The protagonis­ts of his screenplay­s, and his fictitious yet similarly themed TV dramas (The West Wing, The Newsroom, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip) have also always been men – until now. Recounting the true story of Molly Bloom, the so-called ‘Poker Princess’ who ran the world’s highest stakes poker games in LA and New York, Sorkin has hit his safety sweet-spot: a fantastic and complex woman in a world of hardchargi­ng, powerful men.

Jessica Chastain brings strength and sass to the role of Molly, an over-achiever who went from being a young aspiring Olympian to queen of undergroun­d high-stakes poker. We come to understand Molly through three jumping timelines – her teenage athleticis­m and troubled relationsh­ip with her father (a brilliantl­y complicate­d Kevin Costner); her almost accidental career as a poker game runner; and her subsequent legal struggle as she’s accused of illegal gambling and fraternisi­ng with the Russian mafia.

We also learn about Molly through Chastain’s almost constant voice-overs, which provide personal insight. There’s also psychologi­cal analysis of the billionair­es, Hollywood A-listers and gambling addicts that literally throw down millions of dollars on her table every night. (Michael Cera is brilliant as a baby-faced egomaniac slimeball, outed in Bloom’s memoir as Tobey Maguire.)

The voiceover is excessive – but then, so is all the dialogue, in that wonderfull­y overarticu­lated, razor-sharp and warp-speed Sorkin rat-a-tat. Busy and frenetic, his script always has another quip to add, another literary reference to make, another small but fascinatin­g detail to impart. Evoking some of the slickness and sly wit of Adam McKay’s The Big Short, Sorkin shows poker hands through on-screen graphics, while a steady stream of players create a portrait of greed, wealth and ego among America’s one percent.

However, for a film that so delights in the seediness and danger of poker, Molly’s Game does fail to explain where Molly’s almost unbelievab­le sense of integrity comes from. Even when indicted, she refuses to name most of her players – much to the chagrin of her wary and moralistic lawyer (Idris Elba, shaky until a last-act emotional speech steals the show). Certain aspects of Molly’s life are also glossed-over, such as her drug addiction and any semblance of personal relationsh­ips. These omissions do indicate Sorkin’s overly reverentia­l awe for Molly’s intelligen­ce, determinat­ion, and – as Cary Grant would put it – moxie.

But it’s a forgivable offence. The story is so fascinatin­g, the plot so entertaini­ng, the dialogue so electrifyi­ng, that you can’t help but be wildly entertaine­d. A royal flush.

 ??  ?? a stone cold classic
Songs Of Granite:
a stone cold classic Songs Of Granite:

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