Director: Aaron Sorkin
Screenwriter: Aaron Sorkin
Country: China/ USA/ Canada
Runtime: 140 mins.
Australian Release Date: 1 February 2018
Previewed at: Palace Central, Sydney, on 25 January 2018.
Fans of writer Aaron Sorkin’s political masterwork West Wing may be enthralled by his in-depth, very wordy script for Molly’s Game but, at 140 minutes, you feel as if he hasn’t let a single thought go by without reams of dialogue. The result is a heavy-handed film that, like many other movies of this length, would have fared better with a severe edit. Or is it just that, in a world overdosing on YouTube and GIFs, audiences now have a much shorter attention span than they used to. Perhaps both are true. I say this because I observed a fellow viewer constantly checking his mobile phone screen, particularly when the film entered the second half of the second hour!
Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) was a beautiful Olympic-class skier whose career came to an untimely end after a particularly nasty fall put her out of contention. She had suffered a spinal problem as a child and had, against all medical advice, entered the sport to satisfy her extremely competitive father Larry (Kevin Costner), a psychologist who thought it was better for his daughter to face her demons head-on. After the fall, Molly went on to re-invent herself as a high-stakes poker game coordinator whose clientele included royalty, sports and movie stars, businessmen and, unbeknown to her, the Russian mafia. Her introduction to the mob was made by a man called Douglas Downey (Chris O’Dowd), who held an unrequited love for Molly and had a major gambling problem, not helped by his predilection to hit the bottle. After a decade of riding high, Molly woke one morning to a raid by multiple armed FBI agents, who set out to destroy her financially and take her freedom… unless she named names. Her lawyer, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), who was initially sceptical about her version of events and her ignorance of the Russians, gave her a chance to face up to and fight the system that was preparing to put her away for a lengthy period.
Molly’s Game is based on truth and first-time director Sorkin used Bloom’s eponymous book as his source material. The problem is that Sorkin has heavily relied on the technique of having his protagonist narrate large chunks of her story, so the film tends to come across as very verbose, and it’s not helped by having Chastain speak a mile a minute. The scenes between Chastain and Elba are fine although, Elba, a good actor, looks drained after some of his speeches; Chastain also suffers from too much dialogue and occasionally is caught by the camera with such a look of resignation that you get the feeling she can’t wait to hear, ‘cut’! In many ways, though, it’s a classy film, particularly in its design and production values and there’s enough of a story-line to keep it engaging. Plus, there are enough costume changes to maintain a visual interest even if only on a superficial level; Chastain looks ravishing in every scene. On another level, Molly’s Game can be seen as a story about a woman making it in a thoroughly male domain and flourishing, so for that reason alone it’s a tale worth telling and one that, regrettably, you don’t see very often.