‘Molly’s Game’ is fantastic, frenetic entertainment
If you like Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”), you will like “Molly’s Game,” his directorial debut from a script that he also wrote. If you can’t stand the guy, this movie is definitely not for you. That’s essentially the only question any audience members should ask themselves when deciding whether or not to see this film. Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”) is incredible. Idris Elba (“Thor: Ragnorak”) continues to prove why he’s one of the best working actors today. Kevin Costner (“McFarland, USA”) is kind of annoying. But none of this matters because the script is so Sorkin-esque, filled to the brim with flashbacks, quick cuts, voiceovers and fast-talking people moving at a rapid-fire pace. If you aren’t on board right from the first frame, the movie is going to blow right by you and never look back. Add in a true story component that is based on Molly Bloom’s own memoirs of her insane life, and you have one of the most purely entertaining films of the pre-Oscar season.
Those who love “The Social Network” and “The West Wing” will likely find a lot to like here. Sorkin keeps the story moving as fast as physically possible, flying through years of story in what feels like a brief (if, at times, exhausting) two and a half hours. The story follows Molly Bloom, a former Olympic level athlete who slowly finds herself at the center of the biggest and most elaborate poker game in Los Angeles. Chastain carries the brunt of the film, and if she wasn’t as strong of an actress as she is, it’s likely the sheer amount of voiceover would collapse the movie under its own weight. But luckily, Chastain is as talented an actor as Sorkin is a writer, and the movie never feels bogged down in exposition, despite its heavy presence in most of the scenes. Michael Cera (“Sausage Party”) is featured prominently in the first half of the film as “Player X,” an amalgam of various real-life celebrities. Cera brings out a side of himself that hasn’t been seen before onscreen: a menacing, insane, evil presence that is legitimately frightening. It certainly seems possible that after “Molly’s Game,” Cera might have a future as a Bond villain.
One storyline that not only feels inessential but also detracts from the film as a whole is the relationship between Molly and her father, played by Costner. Costner and his verbally abusive relationship with Molly is a major focus of the first third of the film before falling away almost completely in the second act, only to reappear completely out of the blue and stop the entire movie in its tracks. Molly’s father, as portrayed in the film, is a psychologist obsessed with Freud and other methods of old-fashioned psychology. He reappears when Molly is at her lowest point in order to psychoanalyze her and explain every single action both she and he have taken in the film. It’s a clear example of something Sorkin has been habitually accused of: mansplaining. It also feels disingenuous to the story being told. It recontextualizes the entire narrative to being about Molly’s father, taking away some of her own agency in the process. The scene in question leaves a bad taste that is quickly washed away when Costner leaves the frame, only to reappear once more, briefly, at the end. However, it still feels like this scene, and this entire storyline, probably wasn't necessary to tell Molly Bloom’s story.
“Molly’s Game” is second only to the HBO series “The Newsroom” in terms of being pure Sorkin. It feels similar to “The Hateful Eight” in that the film is a juiced-up version of the director’s style. For those who will eat up anything Sorkin writes (and now, it appears, directs), this movie is a must-see. For those who find the man and his work to be patronizing and obnoxious, there is nothing here that will change your mind. For the rest, “Molly’s Game” is a thoroughly well-made piece of entertainment, one that tells a truly fascinating story in memorable fashion.