Molly’s Game is the true story of Molly Bloom (played by Jessica Chastain), an ex-olympic skier who wound up running underground high stakes poker games in New York and LA for several years in the late 2000s. It started with celebs and other high rollers, but as the buy-ins got higher and higher, the Russian mob became involved and things began to spiral out of Molly’s control. The screenplay is partially adapted from Bloom’s tell-some book, but goes far beyond the source material (the book is actually a large plot element within the film) to become something that feels entirely like the work of the filmmaker, who is both new and old to this game.
Molly’s Game marks the directorial debut of celebrated screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and if feels like you’re in the hands of an old pro. Known for his rapid-fire dialogue, Sorkin is able to translate this skill to other aspects of the film. The first 20 minutes move at such an engaging, breakneck speed, and the story is so expertly teased out from there, that by the end you barely notice that the last act is composed almost entirely of lengthy dialogue-driven scenes.
There’s a lot going on in this story, and it ends up being about a lot of things (addiction, pride, family…), yet it never feels too bogged down as Sorkin handles all its elements well. Starting with her ski career and daddy issues, Molly’s universe, and the characters who swirl in and out of it, steadily expand throughout the story. Like his best scripts (A Few Good Men, The Social Network, Moneyball), Molly’s Game manages to be clever, dramatic, interesting, cool, relevant and generally satisfying overall. A difficult act for anyone to pull off. More so than his other projects, Molly’s Game is also incredibly sexy, which is pretty impressive considering there’s not a single sex scene in it. Even someone who hates poker (like myself) can see the appeal of this exclusive, powerful, and sometimes dangerous world.
It’s not hard to notice the influence of other directors who have adapted Sorkin’s work in the past (particularly David Fincher and Danny Boyle), and it seems clear that this is something he’s wanted to do for a while now. Having worked with some of the best in the business, along with having the clout to pull together an A-list supporting cast (including Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, and Michael Cera), make Molly’s Game feel nothing like a first film, but the work of a fully formed director. It will be interesting to see where he goes from here.