As Oscar bait to showcase American actress Jessica Chastain’s prowess (and hopefully add a golden statuette to the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress she’s already won for her CIA agent role in 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty), this new biopic Molly’s Game squarely delivers the goods.
But Chastain is not the only star here – this film is also noteworthy as the directorial debut of award-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network), based on a script – no surprise here – that he adapts from Molly Bloom’s 2014 memoir, Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker.
Firstly, let’s talk about the screenplay. Already, the opening monologue (conveyed via Chastain’s voiceover) bears Sorkin’s trademark characteristics – frenetic pacing and a love for words. It not only introduces the audience to the protagonist’s backstory as an Olympic hopeful who stumbles at a crucial moment, but also ruminates on the role of chance in one’s life.
What’s a loss for the sports of competitive skiing is a gain for high-stakes poker games which Bloom is later employed to help organise in Los Angeles, before striking out on her own in New York City.
Using a lot of lingering first-person voiceovers, Sorkin charts Bloom’s rise and fall in a business that blurs the line between the legal and the illegal. At the same time, he weaves in the present timeline of the story (in third-person narrative), where a clean-and-sober Bloom seeks help from an empathetic and principled lawyer (Idris Elba) to ward off the prosecution’s attempts to indict her and turn her into a state witness against her former poker patrons.
Credit must be given to Sorkin for the clarity and organisation in telling the story, which seems to take on a little too much to digest – from incorporating brief lessons on poker, to the induction of viewers into the shady world of Russian mobsters, Hollywood celebrities and financial bigwigs that make up her clientele, not to mention detailing Bloom’s difficult relationship with her psychologist father (Kevin Costner).
So it’s fortunate that Chastain tackles her role with verve and sensitivity. The result: a memorable character you can root for, regardless of your own moral convictions about what she does and possible scepticism over the film’s tendency to glorify the noble intentions behind her deeds.
One wonders if the script, under a different director’s helm, would be delivered with less indulgence, but Chastain does her part in preventing this film from coming across solely as a Sorkin masterclass.
… still there’s more …