Even if you’re going in blind to an Aaron Sorkin-penned flick, chances are you’ll be aware it is one within the first five minutes. Someone with a sharp tongue and low need for oxygen intake will have hit the screen in a verbal tidal wave before you’ve had your first mouthful of popcorn. That trademark rat-a-tat-tat speech has been tamed several times under the likes of Rob Reiner and David Fincher and it’s made for compelling viewing. Molly’s Game marks the first occasion where Sorkin has braved not only the script but also the directing duties and it’s a transition that isn’t as smooth as you’d like.
Based on the real-life story of Molly Bloom, Jessica Chastain stars as the skiing superstar who’s future takes a career-ending turn, leading her to find an alternative in high-stakes poker tournaments. Managing games only privy to the rich and stupidly famous, Bloom begins to see dollar signs until eventually she’s placed under investigation of the FBI, when it’s discovered the Russian mafia had few seats at her table. From here, Bloom finds herself strutting into the office of top-level attorney played by Idris Elba, carrying a stiff upper-lip and a plea to have her name cleared of the charges before it’s too late.
Stats, lawsuits and smart-asses aplenty is the sort of territory you’d imagine Sorkin would relish in – which is the very reason Molly’s Game crumbles so quickly. The writer’s first time as director demonstrates that he doesn’t know when to press the pause button on just about any occasion when characters open their mouths, lest anymore of his wondrous dialogue get cut. Not happy with characters spitting sniper-like verbal fire at one another, Sorkin then goes for the tiresome method of Molly giving a voiceover to blanket the majority of the film that gets more annoying as the story progresses. It makes for a tiresome experience that thankfully the key cast members manage to walk away from.
Chastain, whilst perfectly watchable struggles to portray a character that should be the smartest one in every room she enters. This could’ve been her own Erin Brokovich but doesn’t even come close, even with the help she gets from Idris Elba who phones it in as her attorney with a heart of gold, asking for more information on her underground poker empire and Molly refusing to budge. It doesn’t make for particularly electric encounters with one another and when a resolution is finally met, you’ll find yourself struggling to care. Add in unwanted father issues with on-screen Dad Kevin Costner, and it’s just another blinding error in a film that has clear promise.
One pleasant surprise through the film is Michael Cera as Player X (Molly refuses to name her clients). Gone is the sheepish Arrested Development/Superbad type uncomfortable in his own skin. Here he plays the game as well as Chastain, if not better, spitting out poker jargon and making you question if he’s had a go at these tables long before the cameras started rolling. It’s also a clear demonstration that a character that comes in such a small dose in a film overflowing in Sorkinese and poker plays is one of its greatest elements. Should Sorkin ever have another go behind the camera, he should watch this game tape back before he tries another.