Molly's Game, also Sorkin's directorial debut, follows the story of Molly Bloom, from the freak skiing accident that destroyed her Olympic dream, through her venture into the world of high stakes underground poker. An unlikely trajectory for sure, but one that is as intriguing as it is absurd.
Established as a head strong, attentive, and highly intelligent woman, Molly accepts a job as an assistant to ultra douche Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong), administrator of a weekly high stakes poker game, wherein Hollywood actors, athletes, and power brokers gather to risk hundreds of thousands of dollars and wax poetic on how important they all are. As Molly keeps track of the books and fills the brandy snifters, she is also watching and learning, and when the opportunity arrises, she is more than prepared to steal the game out from under Keith; a move that will line her pockets while at the same time clearing a path to predictably unfortunate predicaments.
What is most admirable about Molly is her conviction in keeping the game she runs on the up and up, until circumstances warrant otherwise. At first she is willing to bend some legalities, but not break them. Of course, playing with fire this hot is going to lead to burns, and as her generosity extends to a less noble clientele, her game lands the interest of federal authorities who aren't interested in Molly's ethical fortitude.
Of course Sorkin's whip-smart dialogue makes this all work, along with the terrific performances of Chastain and Elba; bantering back and forth like linguistic heavyweights, voraciously chewing up scenes with award worthy precision.
Sorkin also relies heavily on the frowned upon "tell-don't-show" approach, allowing much of the story to be told through Molly's narration. And it works. Coming in at a somewhat heavy 140 minutes, Molly's Game feels best served by cutting this corner and allowing some of the exposition to be read aloud instead of cramming in extra scenes.
First, to see a female character stand out as a badass, not as a superhero or international spy, but rather as someone who is intellectually equal, has done their homework, and has achieved a level of success in an environment which is not designed for such, is highly refreshing. Now, we can certainly have a conversation surrounding ethics, but I don't see that that cheapens the level of fortitude and conviction of Molly Bloom as a player in proximity to the powerful and dangerous men of whom she deals with. At a time when the national focus has turned to a long overdue discussion on the abuse of women at the hands of powerful men, here is one that punches back, sticks to convictions, and doesn't fall prey to the masculine oppression.
Secondly, it's Molly's subconscious drive to make sure she isn't kicked around by the patriarchy, which hearkens back to her relationship with her father. She needs to prove her worth in the face of powerful men. There is a scene at the end of the film in which her father, in a slightly chance encounter, regales Molly with a ten minute Freudian assessment of how she got to this place. Convenient? Perhaps, but it didn't bother me, as the rest of the film is such an entertaining ride. The supposed reconciliation seems a bit unearned, but Costner sells it enough for us to somewhat sympathize with him, even if his motives and intentions weren't always just.
Molly's Game is a fast paced, highly enjoyable film which rests comfortably upon Sorkin's top notch writing (and serviceable direction), and standout turns by it's two principle stars. Think Erin Brockovitch meets Heidi Fleiss. There is plenty food for thought to take away. Consider the sacrifices people will make to get to the top; here shown in the form of Molly's goal of achieving athletic greatness versus how her father pushes her beyond reasonable boundaries. Consider Molly's convictions, to stand up to the powerful men who would suppress her, and how her upbringing built the foundation of strength on which she stands. And revel in her steadfastness, wherein she is repeatedly directed to accept the olive branch being extended that will ease the consequences of her misdeeds, and yet she refuses to sell out those in which she has sworn her protection. The deck is stacked against her, but Molly Bloom is all in.
4.5 OUT OF 5