Molly Bloom’s story has its contrasts. She was a talented skier who was on track to become an Olympic champion until a life-threatening accident resulted in her being out of that race for good, that’s when her next career move changed her life for all the wrong reasons. The protagonist in Molly’s Game became the poker princess, a name that lit up tabloids. She ran the highest-stake gambling game in Hollywood and New York.
Everyone wanted in: actors (Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Affleck get a quick mention in Bloom’s personal memoir), sports superstars, businessmen, and even Russian mobsters. But the fun turned into a game full of wrongdoing and criminal charges.
It’s an American biopic that is almost envisioned to appear as a domino effect – after one fall, everything else for Molly (Jessica Chastain) slowly came crashing down. Based on Bloom’s book titled, Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker, the film marks the directorial debut of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network and Steve Jobs). With the screenplay still under his name, he manages to incorporate contrasting timelines, along with a detailed explanation of the ins-and-outs of poker – highlighting that this isn’t just about being good at the game, it’s about the skills it takes to win big.
While the understanding of the game is interesting to an extent, Sorkin is smart and focuses less on the table of fortune (or misfortune for some) and more of the impact this career has had on Bloom’s life. Following her arrest, the biggest challenge she faces is persuading wary lawyer Charlie Jaffrey (Idris Elba) to take her case and help put a stop to the government’s campaign to sentence her to a prison.
It’s hard to miss the detail in Sorkin’s writing. Take Jaffrey’s strong and impactful monologue when defending Bloom as an individual – it’s the prime example of the way Sorkin has used his ability to create an in-depth narrative that adds emotion to a game that is meant to generate excitement and competition.
Yet, while his screenwriting hits the nail on the head, his directing fails to hit the same spot. With a surprisingly emotive and detailed account of Molly’s accident, the camera seems to focus more on the luxurious side of it, meaning for seventy-five percent of the film we get to see Chastain in glitzy dresses and Louboutin’s. The sad truth of this provides a deeper insight into the power struggle that women have in the game, the selling point is the look. That aspect is quite frustrating in this post-Weinstein era.
Chastain is a far cry from her character, but as a Hollywood starlet, she definitely has the eye for a great role. The Zero Dark Thirty actress makes Molly’s Game her film. No matter how dominant the men surrounding Molly are, Chastain demonstrates her natural ability to be in control and uses the character to portray a woman with strength. There are points where her level of strength weakens enabling a fresh wave of emotion to break out in the film when Molly is reconnected with her tough-minded father (Kevin Costner).
Michael Cera plays Player X, the unnamed actor and hidden star of the game. The character is partly based on Tobey Maguire – Bloom’s most infamous client who not only controlled her game but took the LA part out of it, leading her straight into depression and taking her to the darker side of poker in New York.
Disregarding the truth of the story, Sorkin highlights something that we are fighting hard to move past, a world in which women like Molly are taken for granted by high-ranking men. Though that out of mind his writing proves that poker is an expensive game and Chastain is wanting in on the prize, even sacrificing her name in the making. It’s an addict’s heaven, soon to become hell.
Molly’s Game is in theatres now.