As strange as it sounds to call the creator of The West Wing a newbie, Molly’s Game comes with a lot of anticipation as it marks writer Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut.
Having written intricate classics such as A Few Good Men, The Social Network and TV show The Newsroom, he now takes on the true story of Molly Bloom.
Played by Jessica Chastain, Bloom is a former Olympic skier who moves to LA when an accident forces her out of the sport. She becomes involved with the world of private, illegal poker games – glamorous, high stakes affairs played by the famous and powerful.
She develops a knack for hosting, eventually setting up her own parties in New York and accruing valuable information about her players. Her life turns upside down when she is arrested by the FBI and accused of colluding with the Russian mafia, who were players at her games.
Desperate to prove her innocence without exposing her clients, Bloom and her skeptical lawyer (Idris Elba) must fight to clear her name.
Central to the film’s plot is Molly’s fight against the system, one that tries to smear her as a party girl who got in too deep, punishing her for being successful. The first hour makes for fascinating viewing, with the typically dense dialogue paired with an introduction to a seductive and thrilling private world.
Bloom is also a terrific hero for the story – undermined by almost every man in her life, from her father (Kevin Costner) to the suits at the FBI, hers is a constant fight to prove her worth.
In that sense, Chastain is the perfect choice for the part. Portraying her character as tough and uncompromising, but also with a strong moral fibre, she’s mesmerising to watch and perfectly paired with Elba, an actor who knows how to impress without stealing the spotlight.
The duo’s interactions, when paired with Sorkin’s script, become the strongest moments of the film.
The downside is that as the film goes on, Sorkin fails to justify why Bloom’s acquittal should matter so much. The court scenes feel like a step down when compared to Molly’s other life, and the technicalities of society’s system don’t allow for much emotional heft. You may learn everything there is to know about poker in the film’s two hours and twenty minutes, but slightly less about morality.
While it may be short of a Full House, Molly’s Game has a lot going for it.
Just as she has with many films in the past, Jessica Chastain elevates proceedings by being absolutely brilliant. Sorkin’s script makes sure there is a lot of substance to go with the style, even if the gravity of the situation is never quite underlined.
A great drama for anyone who’s dreamed of getting a seat at the high roller’s table.
Molly’s Game is out in the UK on 5 January.