Walking, talking, fast wit, talking over each other, intellectualism, monologues, references to literature and more talking: if you’re seeing all of this in a movie, then you’re probably watching a movie written by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. The writer of such films and TV shows like The Social Network, Steve Jobs, Moneyball, The Newsroom, and The West Wing has a very specific style of writing and has become one of the most recognizable screenwriters in the film business. If you hate his style of writing, then you will hate his directorial debut, Molly’s Game. If you’re like me and are a fan of his writing style, then Molly’s Game is the movie for you.
Molly’s Game tells the story of a former Olympic Skier Molly Bloom (played by Jessica Chastain). After a career-ending outing at her last skiing run, Bloom gets involved in the world of underground poker. Bloom uses nothing but her brains and wit to build up the most exclusive and high stakes poker games in the world, which quickly leads her to become a target of the FBI and the mob.
Molly’s Game is the most Aaron Sorkin that Aaron Sorkin has ever been. His style of writing is always present in the movies he writes but it is filtered through directors such as David Fincher, Rob Reiner and Bennet Miller, which could lead the screenplay style to be toned down a bit. Molly’s Game doesn’t have that filter, so this is completely Aaron Sorkin which makes one of the most engaging, fast-paced, witty and entertaining films of last year. Sorkin shows great strength and promise as a director and gets some great performances out of his actors led by the brilliant Jessica Chastain.
Jessica Chastain absolutely owns every second of every frame that she is in as Molly Bloom. How her performance did not earn her an Oscar Nomination is a great mystery to me. She is cold, calculated, funny, and at times emotionally compromised. She carries this movie on her back whom also acts as the unreliable narrator that helps us be guided through this world of poker.
Aaron Sorkin borrows a bit from Adam McKay’s directing style of The Big Short. There are moments where the story puts on the brakes so it can explain something to you in a fast and interesting manner. This is particularly evident in the poker scenes where the movie breaks down the hands and the odds for viewers that are not as familiar with poker, but it never feels condescending (which is a difficult thing to pull off). The opening minutes of the movie where Molly breaks down her descent down a ski mountain feels particularly inspired by The Big Short but executed in a style that only Sorkin can write, making it still unique to himself.
Molly’s Game perhaps has the most in common with one of Sorkin’s previous screenplays, The Social Network. The movie bounces back and forth through different time periods, juxtaposing Molly’s journey with the court case she finds herself involved in. Like The Social Network, Molly’s Game pulls off the non-linear time jumps in an effortless and non-confusing manner. Since this movie is at the longer running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes, having the movie always bobbing and weaving through different storylines keeps the movie always interesting.
However, since there is so much going on, not everything gets its fair share of screen time. There is much that is mentioned throughout the movie that doesn’t feel important but at the same time is. There is a part dealing with Molly’s drug addiction that feels important but never gets the scenes to highlight the actual importance.
A big part of the movie’s emotional core comes down to Molly and her relationship with her family. Once this element gets a lot more attention towards the third act, Molly’s Game becomes emotional rich and engaging. For a while though that element is missing. It is such a crucial part of Molly’s cathartic moments later in the movie that Sorkin misses the opportunity to really sprinkle that theme of family in more towards the middle. It gets lost in the excess of Molly’s life. The reason why Steve Jobs and Social Network are such engaging watches is in part because of their emotional intensity. Molly’s Game carries emotional intensity but it only begins to show towards the end of the movie. In particular, there is an especially emotional scene between Molly and her father (played by the always reliable Kevin Costner). Once that element kicks in, Molly’s Game goes from a very entertaining movie to a great movie. I think if this element was present more through the movie it might have lived up to other great Sorkin screenplays. This doesn’t sink the movie by any means, but this one of the reasons Molly’s Game doesn’t quite live up to Sorkin’s previous outings.
Aside from that, Molly’s Game is absolutely terrific. Sorkin shows himself more than capable of working with actors. Aside from Jessica Chastain, there is a strong supporting performance from the great Idris Elba, I would even go as far to say some of the best work of his career is here. Michael Cera isn’t in the movie as much I initially thought, but his more antagonist turn here is surprising, restrained, and really well done. I never thought Michael Cera would have the chops for a role like this and wrongly walked in the movie expecting him to be like Neil Patrick Harris in Gone Girl, the funny guy trying to be serious and being the movie’s weakest link.
By the end, I really enjoyed Molly’s Game. There are some weaker aspects of the movie, but that’s all they are, weaker, not bad aspects. Molly’s Game is wildly entertaining and memorable. This is Sorkin unchained but in the same breath, he doesn’t get as preachy as he does in The Newsroom. Regardless, Aaron Sorkin has certainly proven himself capable of directing a full-length feature film, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.