Film Review – Molly’s Game

Directed: Aaron Sorkin

Writer: Aaron Sorkin (screenplay), Molly Bloom (book)

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner |

Tagline: “ Deal with her”

Trivia: Molly says that the center of the galaxy smells of “rum and raspberries” due to ethyl formate. Both are true – ethyl formate does smell like rum with a hint of raspberry and it is one of the organic compounds that have been detected in clouds at the center of the Milky Way.

I cannot write movie reviews without reviewing (at least once) a movie that was written by my all-time hero, Aaron Sorkin.

Anything written by him would be on my watch list and would be examined and analyzed to learn more about the craft of writing intelligent characters and compelling stories. But even the great ones can sometimes miss their target.

Any discussion about “How to Write Kick-Ass Female Characters” would have to a look at a different type of Kick-Ass female character, who managed to win in the most toughest male dominated game – The Poker Table  and see what kind of treatment does she get.

We all know Aaron Sorkin can write. The one-man brilliance behind The West WingThe Social NetworkMoneyball The Newsroom and more, his confrontational style blends skill, smartness and, particularly, showiness in a way that leaves no question about his talent.

But in Molly’s Game Sorkin has entered a new dimension, which is, directing and that’s a whole different ballgame.

Cinema is, or should be, a visual medium. Famous for his quick-wit, intellectual dialogue which at times, it almost feels as though you could watch the film with your eyes closed and not miss out on much of its meaning.

There is a famous pyramid track from Beginner to a Master.

Beginners – Advanced – Expert &  Master.

Beginners work only by the rules, Advanced work by rules and experience. Experts are the ones that create the rules, which means they work by the rules of the rules, but Masters work by intuition, which means, they break all the rules.

Sorkin is a master of writing screenplays, so his screenplay can break all the rules – having too much flashback, having voiceover that would lead the story and running way too long. All this can be fixed in the hands of master directors.

But if you’re a first time director that could hold back your brilliant script. That’s what happens in Molly’s Game.

Molly’s Game is based on Molly Bloom’s (Jessica Chastain) story, which has it all: Russian mobsters, FBI bust-ins, push-up bras and cash. Millions and millions of it.

The heroine of Molly’s Game was on track to be an Olympic skiing champion, until a freak accident took her out of the race, and a very different career ensued, as she inched her way, stack-heeled, into running the most infamous high-stakes poker game in Hollywood.

Sorkin admits that he’s a fan of the classic movies of the ’40 (just like me) and you can see it in this movie.

His Girl Friday (1940) has been clocked at 240 words per minute, which sounds about right for the tempo Sorkin has embraced in Molly’s Game.

Like Rosalind Russell’s reporter Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday, Molly is a fiercely ambitious woman who has carved her place, with biting charm and sharp fingernails, in a man’s world.

Like Barbara Stanwyck’s card-sharp con artist Jean Harrington in The Lady Eve, Molly has found a way to profit from the weaknesses of others. In the central role, Jessica Chastain is, quite simply, phenomenal.

Molly’s Game is full of electric energy and Sorkin’s brand of verbal fireworks – all of which help enormously when the movie falters in fleshing out its characters.

In his first film with a female protagonist, Sorkin hits on a timely theme: the ordeals of being a woman in a man’s world. Sexual misconduct isn’t the half of it.

The Molly we see on screen can handle herself, though we never see her in an intimate relationship that involves sex, much less love.

Sorkin shapes his movie as a morality tale, seeing the good in Molly being compromised by a corrupt system, even though she profits by encouraging the gambling addiction of her clients.

But in the film’s second half, he makes the mistake of letting male characters presume to tell us what makes Molly tick.

Nothing screams more mansplaining than the scene with Molly’s estranged father (Kevin Costner) at the end of the movie.

Chastain and Elba (as her lawyer) are both at the top of their respective games, but Sorkin never gave us as a reason to care about anyone involved.

When the structure constantly undercuts any emotional or dramatic thread, the film becomes detached and aloof, seemingly coasting on a pedigree rather than grounding itself in real human emotions. 

Sorkin’s scripts have come to life with filmmakers who know how to balance their particular brand of arch wit with emotional weight; see what David Fincher did with The Social Network, or Bennett Miller with Moneyball.

As a director, Sorkin just doesn’t yet have the stylistic chops to really make it work. The elements are all there, but they never really come together in a satisfying way.

Chastain may act the hell out of this, but without the proper emotional grounding on the part of the filmmaker, she’s left with an unlikable character without solid grounding in anything that resembles real feelings.

Verdict – 4/5 Stars in my book

 

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