Aaron Sorkin has written Emmy-winning TV shows (Sports Night, The West Wing, The Newsroom) and Oscar-winning films (Moneyball, The Social Network), but Molly’s Game is the first one of his scripts that he also chose to direct. What does an Aaron Sorkin-directed film look like? Well, it’s a lot like his scripts as it turns out. It’s fast, it’s smart, it’s funny, and it’s brilliant. Throw in the performance of Jessica Chastain’s career, an astounding true story, and Molly’s Game is one of the best films of 2017.
Molly Bloom (Chastain) was an Olympic moguls skier, who was left directionless after a career-ending injury. Moving to Los Angeles before starting law school, Molly fell into the world of high-stakes, underground poker games featuring the famous and elite. Soon she was running her own games: high-stakes, big money, and everything was going quite well until….well, it wasn’t. Molly got rolled up in a government RICO sting and was looking at serious prison time, had no funds due to a government seizure of her assets, and is pretty much at the end of her rope when she successfully begs the only ethical attorney (Idris Elba) willing to hear her case to defend her. In the course of the defense, Molly’s full story comes out, and as strange as that set-up was, the truth is even wilder.
I have absolutely no idea how I didn’t have any awareness of a story this insane before the trailers for this film began to come out. Apparently it was covered in the tabloids quite thoroughly, but they don’t really fall into my normal reading stack. I am an unabashed Sorkinite. I love his work. I think he’s the best writer working in any medium today. His scripts, be they for TV, film, or stage, are fast, unapologetically intelligent, funny, and insightful. If I could write 1% as well as Sorkin, I would count myself a success. I had no doubt that the script for Molly’s Game would be strong, but what really surprised me is how little this film feels like a first-time director’s film. It certainly wasn’t an easy film to take on for your first time behind the camera, but Sorkin nailed it, and has received a Director’s Guild nomination for first-time director for his efforts.
As good as the script and direction are, though, this film doesn’t work without the performance of Jessica Chastain’s life, and she is in or narrating 99% of the scenes in the film. Criminally underrated, Chastain doesn’t get these kind of vehicles as often as some of her peers, but she knocked this out of the park. Bloom is a very complex person with a deep back story that brought her to Elba’s law office, and the film exposes those layers, covering roughly 15 years of Molly’s life. There’s nothing simple about her motivations, and the film takes 140 minutes exploring the story, but it’s so engrossing that the run time doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the film.
Molly’s Game features two outstanding, small supporting roles. Idris Elba is brilliant as Molly’s reluctant and exasperated lawyer. Kevin Costner continues to pop up in fantastic supporting roles that eclipse anything he did as a headliner, and as Molly’s father, he’s given one of the best scenes of 2017 with his “3 Years of Therapy in 3 Minutes” toward the film’s completion.
Aaron Sorkin delivers another fantastic script and shows he’s also a legit director. You add to that, some of the best acting of 2017 and a story that you have to see to believe, and I couldn’t recommend Molly’s Game highly enough.
*Interview with the real Molly Bloom