Aaron Sorkin’s Molly’s Game is based on a true story; a true story told by a potentially unreliable narrator. Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a one-time Olympic contender, is under indictment for running an illegal gambling ring. Technically, she’s guilty (she wrote a book on the subject when she was in need of some money). All the same, the story is much more complicated than guilt versus non-guilt.
The story is complicated, but the movie makes it much more complicated than it needs to be. Sorkin jams into this 140-minute movie three storylines involving Molly. Flashbacks include Molly’s rise into the underground poker scene (makes sense) and her relationship with her family, namely her father. The latter clutters this film, leading us to what is meant to be an emotional gut-punch of a scene involving Molly and Kevin Costner as Molly’s father—this scene failing to hit its mark, only coming across as a blatant reiteration of the film’s characterization of Molly Bloom.
In the film’s present tense, Molly and her attorney (Idris Elba) try to maneuver the case, where the deck is stacked against Molly. These scenes should be the most engaging of the film, but the rapport between Elba and Chastain don’t rise above snide remarks and sudden changes of heart.
Aaron Sorkin, as is seemingly the case when looking at his body of work, can only write one way. This isn’t just to say the dialogue is frequent and fast, but the dialogue also hides large amounts of information by adding bookended quips around this exposition. This writing style works fine given the right director—Fincher and The Social Network, Reiner and A Few Good Men—but with Sorkin himself behind the camera everything feels frantic. Not just the dialogue, but the whole mode of storytelling. We jump from timeline to timeline, absorbing large amounts of verbiage as the camera dances around the action of a poker table.
In the end, once this vast amount of information is taken in and unpacked, you realize that there isn’t too much story to Molly’s Game. What is there makes for a serviceable drama, but it is drawn out through voiceovers and dialogue, making this a 140-minute film that could easily have clocked in at under two hours.
There is much that can be said about Chastain’s performance. She remains one of the best acting talents in Hollywood, and this is another shining example on her portfolio. How she commands the screen both with her physical presence and her line delivery is certainly enough to inject this film with life. The problem is that the film would be dead without her.
Molly’s Game: B-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)