Film Review: Molly’s Game (2017)

2017 in Cinema:

Molly’s Game, 2017

Directed by: Aaron Sorkin

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, Bill Camp

 

Well, Idris Elba has had a busy year.

Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) was dubbed the Poker Princess as she went from an assistant to running one of the most in-demand poker games in, both, Los Angeles and New York, bringing in A-list celebrities and seeing millions of dollars change hands over night. She eventually released her memoirs about the games, the celebrities and the subsequent trial after being arrested by the FBI as they were interested in her connection to the Russian mob. Molly’s Game tells this story in film.

The film is split between the present and the past, fluttering back and forth as Molly’s lawyer, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba, in his fourth film of the last six months, The Dark Tower), asks her to go through the story with him. The past goes from her childhood as a professional skier (before an injury derailed her career) to her as an assistant learning the rules of poker to running her own games which ultimately led to the Russian mob joining the games, while the present goes through the court case, which is more difficult to come to a solution as Molly refuses to give away the celebrities’ names (in real life they included Tobey Maguire, who is portrayed in this film as Player X (Michael Cera) and Ben Affleck), despite the FBI offering her to avoid jail and have her fortune returned in exchange for the names.

While this is Idris Elba’s fourth film in the second half of 2017, it is easily better than two of his others that he’s had a leading role in: The Dark Tower and The Mountain Between UsMolly’s Game is an entertaining film throughout, with likeable characters and a well-told story. Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba both play their roles really well, especially Chastain who has to portray a number of expressions and characters (in terms of the evolution of her character over the years) of Molly, and Elba plays a cautious lawyer who turns passionate very believably. But one of my favourite things about this film was its use of how it told the past. In the film Molly’s book has been released, as she’s released it in real life, and whenever the film is in the past it is accompanied by Molly’s narration. Normally I disagree with the tactic of having narration but it worked so well in this film as it read as almost chapter-by-chapter from her book, and I liked how Charlie’s stage of the book (he’s only read a little bit by the start but soon finishes it) coincides with the past’s scenes, and by the time Charlie’s finished it the film focuses on what’s not in the book, and I really enjoyed this way of telling the story. And it also introduced the rules and verbiage attached to poker quite naturally, as she tries to learn early on and the screen nicely shows this to us with visuals to aid all the fancy poker words, and, as someone who is not fully clued up on poker, this was appreciated.

I did feel, though, that the film began to drag a bit towards the end. There’s a lot of time in the past where Molly is going through the process of setting up the poker games, and considering she moves from LA to New York it feels like the film repeats itself in too much detail for her setting up a second independent poker game (her third overall, after she worked as an assistant in the first). Some gamblers are also given a lot of time as we follow their games and their wins/losses, whereas I felt the film should have been on her more than on them (especially as the names are faked so we can’t even laugh or enjoy knowing who they’re based on). And I also didn’t like the final few scenes about the resolution of the trial and her life. I don’t know how true to life it is, or how over-dramatised it may be, but it didn’t feel like it fit in with the film, although it did connect a lot of seemingly random scenes together.

A thoroughly entertaining film with big-name actors delivering a worthy performance of an intriguing story based on real life. Molly’s story is well told, and brilliantly combines the past and the present, and almost places us in Charlie’s position as we learn the story almost alongside him. It did feel like the film repeated itself and spent more time on things that weren’t Molly, but that’s a personal disappointment more so than anything else.

 

Plot: * * *

Acting: * * * *

Writing: * * * *

Presentation: * * * *

Overall Rating: * * * ¾

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