Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
Aaron Sorkin has been a major screenwriting presence in Hollywood since 1992’s A Few Good Men, a film based on his own stage play. He made a couple of movies after that before spending a decade in television. He returned to the cinema with 2007’s Charlie Wilson’s War and has been on a big run since, earning Oscar nominations for The Social Network and Moneyball, winning the award for the former.
With all that success, it is somewhat surprising that Sorkin is just now moving into the director’s chair with his new film Molly’s Game, a movie which may end up being one of his best.
The film stars Jessica Chastain as real-life figure Molly Bloom, a former Olympic-class athlete who ended up running the country’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and finding herself in trouble with the FBI. Idris Elba plays the attorney who represented her at her 2014 trial, the time period of the film, while a good share of the story is told in flashbacks as Molly narrates her life from her failed bid to qualify for the Olympics, through her success running the poker game, and the events leading towards her eventual arrest. Although much of the story is told using voice-over narration, the narration never feels unnecessary or excessive, a tribute to Sorkin’s talent as a screenwriter and Chastain’s gripping delivery.
There is no debate about Sorkin’s talent as a screenwriter, and his trademark fast-paced, snappy dialogue is on full display here. It is almost lyrical how one sentence feeds into another. But with this film, Sorkin proves that he has a talent for direction as well. Molly’s Game is a tight, thoroughly entertaining drama that moves quickly through its surprising two-hour-and-twenty-minute runtime. There are also some quieter moments in the film where he does not rely on the dialogue, but instead uses the visuals and his actors’ faces to tell the story. It works on multiple levels, operating well as both a courtroom drama and a poker movie, while ultimately being a biopic about an incredibly strong woman.
The movie establishes Molly Bloom as a strong character, not just because she was determined and successful, but also because she achieved most of her success while standing by her personal moral code. There are multiple moments in the movie where she is approached by a character suggesting something that may prove lucrative, but she shoots them down in order to keep her game and her name as clean as possible. She even refuses to take a share of the pots in order to keep her games completely legal until she must reluctantly break this code when it becomes clear that not doing so could potentially break her. She also refuses to let the Russian mob take over her game, even after they resort to violence.
The character of Molly Bloom is a perfect fit for Chastain, who is proving to be one of the strongest women working as an actor in Hollywood today. She owns every frame of this movie that she is in, and that is nearly all of it. She and Elba are very much at the top of their game in the scenes they share together, bouncing Sorkin’s snappy dialogue off one another. This is even more impressive given that the two stars reportedly only had ten days that they were both available to film together and that most of their rehearsals were done virtually.
Kevin Costner is also terrific in his limited screen time. The actor’s performance in a crucial third-act scene alone is worth of consideration for an Oscar nomination. Michael Cera and Chris O’Dowd also deliver notable performances in smaller roles.
Sorkin’s fast-paced dialogue can sometimes be exhausting, like it was in his last film Steve Jobs, but with Molly’s Game he proves that he can rein it in when necessary and the film is better for it. The result is an engaging, fascinating drama that proved to be one of the best films of 2017.