We're dealt an average hand in Molly's Game.
Aida Vucic | 04/02/2018
Aaron Sorkin has found somewhat of a niche in creating real life stories and infusing them with fast, witty and punchy dialogue. Sorkin extends himself in Molly's Game, having a turn at the directors role as well as the script. He hits the pavement running with one of his famous, monologue tirades which perfectly sets the scene. Alas, in a seeming effort to rebuff every producer or director who told him there is such a things as too much voice over, the monologue never seems to end. It’s a film where the majority of dialogue is delivered as voiceover, making it as rapid fire as Sorkin’s mind but also creating a longing for actual conversation.
A former professional skier, Molly Bloom’s (Jessica Chastain) career is halted by a measly tree branch. While devastating, it’s the perfect opportunity for her to take a career break and pursue something outside her realm. She finds herself working at a sleazy bar, pushing drinks, until a chance meeting with the seedy Dean sees her the new door stop to an underground poker game. Its easy money, and there’s a certain thrill to it all, but of course Dean's protective of his establishment, making it clear that Molly is merely an ornament - easily disposed of. With the looming threat of finding herself jobless, Molly starts her own game, and unlike at Dean's, Molly exploits her feminine side, going all out in ensuring that the drinks keep flowing and that the game never stops.
Yet again, Molly's game is threatened by another powerful man, Player X (Michael Cera). After he devastates her, she finds herself adrift, but determined to continue her chances. So she moves to New York City, where things get a little wilder and the players a little more dangerous. The game is no longer poker, but an exchange of funds between Mafia members that results in her eventual arrest and need for an attorney.
All this happened in real life, yet something’s amiss. What would be an otherwise epic tale isn't. Maybe it’s the little insight provided into Molly's personal life that makes the character hard to sympathise with. Sorkin only briefly shares an intimate exchange with her father, and it makes her character seem cold and detached. While her blasé and aloof manner is momentarily cool, it quickly becomes irritating as you become frustrated with her insistent need to protect her honour. Chastain delivers the lines faultlessly, but stronger direction would have ensured the film achieved the same success as The Social Network, which, while included Sorkin’s endless monologues, also moved seamlessly through scenes and brought pathos and humanity to its leads.
Admittedly, the few moments of humanity were difficult to appreciate, given the slight distraction of Jessica Chastain’s attire. With her breast heavily on display, its slightly incongruous that the film tries its best to empower women when it so clearly sexualises the character. Sorkin keeps his camera firmly focused to include the plunging necklines. It further serves to reinforce the image of Molly Bloom as some sort of sexualised “character”, rather than as an actual human being, and while it would be fine on it’s own, when combined with Sorkin’s tedious over-use of voiceover, it grates. It almost feels like we are watching a narrated animal documentary, because the voiceover never really connects with the character.
The rest of the cast is fine. Idris Elba, in particular, is great, but is relegated to moodily shuffling papers in his office in the brief few scenes he is present for. Meanwhile, Costner does very little with very little. As one would expect, it’s Molly’s game, and Jessica Chastain absolutely chews the dialogue with aplomb, utterly dominating the screen with her presence. It’s impressive, but one wonders if there was a stronger director, a temper to Sorkin’s more excessive proclivities, would she be in the race for an Oscar right now? Chances are, she would be.
It’s an entertaining film, but don’t expect to be rewarded for seeing it; you'll be lucky to break even.