After writing several wordy screen plays and a few endearingly verbose TV shows, Aaron Sorkin sits down in the director’s chair with Molly’s Game, a fact-based story that is every inch An Aaron Sorkin Film. Walking and talking? Earnest speeches? Social justice? Daddy issues? You bet!
This uneven but entertaining lark comes from a 2014 memoir by Molly Bloom (played by Jessica Chastain), a former Olympic hopeful who puts off law school and ends up running a high-stakes underground poker game for the rich and famous that falls under the scrutiny of the FBI. The film begins with Bloom’s arrest, then flashes back as she narrates her history for her honest lawyer, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba). Driven to achieve by her demanding father (Kevin Costner), Molly applies her intelligence to low-level jobs in LA, thereby learning enough to wrest control of the longstanding weekly game from her gross boss, Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong). It’s all perfectly legal, so long as she only works for tips and doesn’t take a cut of the action.
The poker scenes are exciting if you know the game, though they’re not the focus: Molly’s quick ascent to power and her scramble to remain there are far more interesting, and Chastain’s all-business, no-time-for-love, pill-popping performance is typically strong. It’s hokey when Dad shows up near the end to explain what’s wrong with her, but darn it, it’s an effective scene acted by two pros. Sorkin hints at exploring the gender dynamics (Molly is always the only woman in a frat-like room full of poker-playing dudes), and I wish he’d done it more thoroughly. But still: He delivers a solid starring vehicle for Chastain (Elba: meh) that feels breezier than its 140-minute runtime.