Molly’s Game

Brand new to Netflix, is Molly’s Game. Aaron Sorkin infuses this story with his signature dialogue and fast pace. It is an involving and sometimes thrilling movie that gets bogged down in a flashy plot structure and too much extraneous detail.

The film follows Molly Bloom, played by Jessica Chastain. Molly is a real woman who has lived an extraordinary life. She was a top performing freestyle skier, destined for great things until a freak accident killed her chances of greatness. She then went to school and got a job that lead to her running a poker game for celebrities and people who wanted to play with celebrities. This lead her to starting her own multimillion dollar game that lead to drug addiction and ties to the Russian mafia. This lead to an indictment and a prosecution. This is a lot of ground to cover in one movie.

It is all fascinating, and every episode is filled with Sorkin’s crackling dialogue. Sorkin wrote and directed this film. It’s his first directorial effort. His writing is better than his direction. His dialogue flies with a momentum all its own. He writes like nobody else. He can turn a simple scene into a thrilling adventure. He comes from a theater background, and it shows. He lets his characters talk and express themselves. His scripts are full of scenes, not exposition dumps or simple moments but true scenes. This film is filled with great scenes. Molly navigates powerful people trying to assert their power, and those power dynamics are expertly crafted.

Where he falters is in his direction. It’s a lot of simple things that most people probably won’t notice. Eye lines don’t match up. His lighting is dull. He editing rhythms feel off. Occasionally he cuts to baffling close ups that don’t fit in with the rest of the scene. It’s so noticeable because the dialogue is so strong, but the direction does not match the dialogue. Clear, crisp dialogue with muddy direction.

The other problem with the movie is the sheer volume of story being told, and the fact that that story is told out of order. Sorkin loves to play with nonlinear storytelling. The problem is that here there’s too much. He tries to cram everything in, and this makes the film feel like its meandering. It doesn’t feel like a tight thriller. It feels like a leisurely stroll through the narrative. Molly’s alcohol and drug issues for instance are mentioned repeatedly, but because the film cuts around in her narrative so much the drug problem never feels serious. It feels like a minor detail getting lost in the shuffle.

Okay, negatives aside, there’s so much good in this movie. Jessica Chastain for one is impeccable as Molly. She is conveys the wit and intelligence of this woman. She is driven and strong. She is frustrated and lost. She is someone fighting desperately every second and Chastain delivers. Idris Elba is also fantastic as Molly’s lawyer. He is a good guy who is driven and a little too tough on his daughter, but still a good man. He is clever and able to match Molly. Their scenes together are superb. Elba and Chastain are a formidable pair and they make this movie soar.

Kevin Costner has a small part as Molly’s dad. The two of them have a scene late in the film in which they “go through three years of therapy in three minutes.” This scene is great. The emotions are raw and powerful as this father and daughter break through years of unspoken resentments and hurt to the core of their relationship. If you hate everything else in the movie this scene alone will make it worth your time.

It is messy and flawed, but it has moments that are so rewarding. It will pull you in despite its flaws. it’s my cup of tea and it’s on Netflix now. – B+

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