Jessica Chastain is electric, witty, and smart in Aaron Sorkin’s directoral debut, ‘Molly’s Game’

Aaron Sorkin, one of the best writers in Hollywood today, has a resume that speaks for itself. From the small screen with The West Wing and The Newsroom to silver screen standouts such as A Few Good Men, The Social Network, and Moneyball, it was only a matter of time before he took his place in the director’s chair. While some first-time directors are solid but questionable with their debuts, Sorkin looked like a natural behind the camera. This fast-and-funny morality tale was a knockout that no one could have expected.

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Molly’s Game tells the true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) – a former Olympic skier who channels her iron will and never say die attitude into a new arena: Underground poker games. Bloom ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game in Los Angeles and New York City for a decade before being caught by the FBI. Her players included Hollywood celebrities, athletes, business titans, and the Russian mob (Who’s really surprised that they showed up?).

While this sort of story or role is usually modified or reserved for Hollywood as an alpha male role, Sorkin stayed true to the story and was lucky to cast Chastain as his heroine, Molly. In easily her best performance since Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain is both beautiful and intelligent. While the form fitting designer dresses can be distracting, once Molly spoke, you listened. Her intelligence and wit along with fast-talk got her in and out of situations. Molly has created a hard shell to protect herself, nursing scars from her childhood due to her relationship with her overbearing father (Kevin Costner). Throughout the movie, Molly is able to pull secrets out of others (especially the players who wage fortunes at her table, only seeing her either as a physical object or easily falling in love with her), but doesn’t reveal much about herself.  She’s able to stay one step ahead and keep her hands clean until discovering she can’t fast-talk her way out of everything.

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Chastain tells Molly’s story through voiceovers and flashbacks – two overworked narratives, but are still effective with a solid story behind it. The movie toggles back and forth between Molly’s glamorous poker-princess past and her less glitzy, facing jail time present. In her past, you see Molly luring high rollers and Hollywood stars (including a jerk played terrifically by Michael Cera) to pony up big money to play in her invite-only games. In her present, you didn’t see any of these “friends” by her side as she selectively unspools her story to her not-quite-sold and cautious defense attorney played by Idris Elba. Their give-and-take scenes powered Molly’s present and kept you intrigued in the story.

The movie was crisp, not progressing too fast to lose the audience, and filled with Sorkin’s rapid fire, wise-guy dialogue that he saved for Molly that made you feel smarter and funnier. You wished you could stay in this world just a little bit longer, or at least raise your verbal and mental game to this level – filled with subtle humor and snappy comebacks. Towards the end felt a little clunky as it was obvious Sorkin was wrapping up the story, trying to fit puzzle pieces into places they didn’t fit into in order to reach a conclusion. Things also got a little too convenient as we watch a Kostner-Chastain scene as father-daughter finally confront long standing issues. Overall, Molly’s Game is cool, confident, and fun film that appeals to everyone’s intelligence rather than spelling everything out. Definitely a good film to start off the new year as it reaches a wide release this weekend.

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