An ongoing series with rapid reviews about great movies
See end of review for assessment:
A must see on the big screen,
Good show, but matinee would suffice OR
Watch movie, but wait for DVD
I went to watch Molly’s Game without much interest, knowing I’d likely be bored (poker—not terribly fascinating), and all too aware I’d been feeling extra fidgety that day, but wanting my son to see something intriguing to him. It turned out to be a great decision and I’m happy to report my restlessness likely was released in my excitement at Aaron Sorkin’s scenes telling the story of Molly Bloom, hemmed in by bad guys and the legal system alike.
Bloom was slated to be an Olympic skier and spent her youth being trained by her overbearing father. A back injury sidelines her, however, and she later takes a year off before law school—at least that’s the plan—to move to Los Angeles. She lands an office job and is recruited by her boss to organize exclusive, underground poker games, where she earns large amounts of cash in tips alone. Initially rather green on the game, she quickly learns to curry favor and bring in new players, including film stars, athletes and investment bankers. Other elements and circumstances negatively affect the circle and Bloom finds herself the subject of an FBI investigation involving the Russian and Italian mafias, with both sides coming down on her.
Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay, adapted from the real-life Bloom’s memoir, Molly’s Game: The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive, High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World, opens and continues with a significant amount of narration. In most other movies this might be a fairly instant turnoff, but Sorkin, who also directs the film, gives Bloom dialogue that draws viewers in immediately, from her dramatic skiing and home life as her father pressures her to be an overachiever while simultaneously treating his daughter like the proverbial redheaded stepchild, to various other points in which realization suddenly dawns: “I’ve been watching this for an hour and a half already?”
The storyline doesn’t just contain Bloom’s legal and personal troubles: it all is told with an engaging substance and within a performance by Jessica Chastain that seems tailor made for her. Her character is intelligent enough to rapidly learn how to transform herself from office worker with a cheap wardrobe to successful businesswoman, though vulnerable enough to misstep in her financial judgements as they pertain to the amount of trust she bestows on those in positions to play her.
At some points in the film, Sorkin doesn’t make it immediately known how much time passes from one scene to the next, though he does provide enough indicators that we can figure that out—not necessarily all that difficult, given how he keeps us on our toes. The plot moves at an even pace, though packed with numerous details of an account we don’t realize at first we’ve been dying to hear. It is quintessential storytelling, Molly relating events in a back and forth between the now in her attorney’s office and scenes depicting what she is telling him—and us—about. Her voiceover often reaches out to us in a way not unlike that of someone we personally are interacting with, as they lean over during an especially shocking moment to lay their palm on our forearm in a conversational communion.
As the distinct points in time begin to merge, Sorkin continues to keep us on the alert because Molly’s choices—not really choices at all—are so loaded and fragile we aren’t sure when or how the explosions might go off. Moreover, Idris Elba, who plays Bloom’s attorney, approaches his role with a strict sensibility that gives way to an intensity, particularly in one pre-trial scene that shows him increasing his margins, demonstrating the actor’s versatile repertoire and ability to immerse himself into the mind of his character. Seamlessly, all this runs alongside yet another thread as Bloom’s life and future hang in the balance in the course of one final day. How this occurs and exactly what resolves itself and what doesn’t teams with the roles of Kevin Costner and Michael Cera, intricate parts of who Molly Bloom is and why she makes the choices she does, at the start as well as in conclusion.
Molly’s Game is recognizable—whether mere minutes or several weeks after viewing—as having high-level re-watchability. Perfect for a night at home or in the cinema, it is a storyteller’s story, one that will be requested repeatedly, even by those who know next to nothing about gambling, for it is a story about and with humanity, a cautionary tale of rise and fall, loyalty and betrayal, and the deconstructive devices within ourselves as well as those we choose to be around.
Viewers will leave electrified and should probably make plans for post-showing conversation, for they will not be ready to leave the tale just because the credits are rolling.
Assessment: A must-see on the big screen
(Also a must-own Blu Ray)
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“Movies by the Minute” review for Signs