Even as a Sorkin fan this is a lot of Sorkin to Sorkin.
Molly’s Game (2017) is a biographical drama written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The Social Network, Moneyball, Steve Jobs). It stars Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom, an Olympic class skier that through fate become the runner of one of the most exclusive high-stakes poker games in the world.
Molly’s Game represents a step forward in Sorkin’s career as he’s finally decided to not only work from behind the page but also behind the camera in his directorial debut. And its not hard to tell. While his writing is as electric as ever, and the film is never less than entertaining, Sorkin is no Fincher yet which means it doesn’t quite hit the highest heights of his illustrious prior work – even if it is still an extremely entertaining thrill ride.
A fascinating story based on true events about poker is almost quintessentially Sorkin material, and he devours every last witty, tantalising morsel of the story to create a screenplay that is as just as good as his prior work. The film moves at a breakneck pace from one quick-witted exchange to another, so much so that the plot could’ve used a little bit of breathing room for the audience to take all the details in. It does however mean that the film is consistently entertaining in a way only a Sorkin script can be – watching spectacular actors engage in combative chat (even if no one talks like that in real life) is always a sight to behold. Even if the ending goes on for a little too long, it does present plenty of emotional resonance that ties Molly’s story into a nice little package that feels particularly timely for today.
However, none of Sorkin’s dialogue would be as electric if it weren’t being charged by the actors on screen and oh boy does Molly’s Game have a cast up to the challenge. In the lead is Chastain in potentially her best performance in a career full of highlights as Molly Bloom herself. She simply exudes intelligence and authority and completely commands every exchange she has with another actor. There’s few that can make Sorkin’s dialogue sound this good but it appears Chastain is in the upper echelon of performers when it comes to razor-sharp delivery. Bringing up the support is Idris Elba who is somewhat overshadowed by Chastain’s commanding presence but still holds his own as good-natured lawyer Charlie Jaffey. I was yet to see Elba in a role like this but I’m beginning to suspect he can do no wrong – as everything from Mandela to a bit-role in Thor, Elba has proven he has the screen presence to sell almost anything and here its no exception. Other performances from Kevin Costner and particularly Michael Cera are also both excellent, but its Elba and Chastain that really command respect.
I’m a huge Aaron Sorkin fan and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. He writes some of the best screenplays and particularly dialogue in the business and I have a sneaking suspicion he could concoct a good script out of anything. Considering this is directorial debut, its still an impressive endeavour, but it does also prove his writing flair is not matched by his directing. Sorkin shoots the film relatively well – it plays off the kinetic energy of his dialogue fantastically and there’s some inventive presentations of poker – but ultimately his direction feels a little flat. Part of that may be harsh comparisons to how well other director’s have shot his screenplays like Fincher and Boyle, but on the other hand its not a huge surprise that screenwriting and directing don’t have a lot of overlap. For a debut its impressive – compared to his previous films its a little disappointing.
But beyond that complaint, Molly’s Game is still a thrill ride of rapid-fire words and gambling all centred around a compelling lead character and performance. For any Sorkin fan this is an easy recommend, but even John Smith is going to find plenty to bet on in this true story adaptation.
General Audiences: Highly Recommended
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended
True Believers (Sorkin): Highly Recommended