A crisp opening leads to a drawn-out drama about poker that grows sluggish as it tries to sustain its two-hour, twenty-minute runtime. Writer Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, Moneyball) knows how to make complex material exciting and ethically challenged protagonists sympathetic, but as a director, he's a bit more challenged. 2.5 out of 5.
Meet Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a skiing champion as a young woman who, after a bad injury, heads to Los Angeles, where she works at a bar and learns how to get high rollers to spend more money than they'd planned to spend. After a customer (Jeremy Strong) takes her on as an employee, she helps run his weekly poker game with a $10,000 buy-in, populated by movie stars, rappers and business titans. Soon she's started her own game with her former customer's clients. As Molly takes greater risks, she puts herself in legal jeopardy.
Opening with Molly's arrest by the FBI for running an illegal gambling operation, the film cuts between Molly's rise to power and her representation by Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) during her court case.
Sorkin is good with the legalese—he wrote and produced The West Wing for several seasons—and the poker scenes go by at a quick enough clip to carry viewers along, even if they don't understand who has the better hand as the game progresses.
It's all a bit exhausting and begins to feel repetitious after the one-hour mark as Molly's game evolves, new players keep joining, and the Russians and Russian influence get mentioned repeatedly.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
Molly says her game gave her an identity, and she descends into depression when it's taken away. She's frustrated by a lack of rules and what she deems a lack of justice after the game falls apart, but she addresses her loss by determining that she must "win."
Molly is pushed by her father to be a top athlete, and says she enjoyed starting fights with him. In one scene, we see her overhear her mother accuse her father of cheating. She later asks her father directly about that, and he admits to it.
When Molly realizes why several players have stopped responding to her attempts to set up a game, she says, "Sometimes God happens fast."
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: R for language, drug content and some violence
- Language/Profanity: Lord's name taken in vain; multiple f-words; "bullsh-t" and other foul language.
- Sexuality/Nudity: We see Molly in bed, in night clothes, just before the FBI breaks into her room; Molly says she never got sexually involved with the players at her game; one player invites her to go away with him, and Molly refuses by telling him to let his wife and kids know about the situation; Molly enlists Playboy playmates to hook new players; Molly's outfits are revealing, accentuating her cleavage; Molly showers after being assaulted, and we see blood running down her back and side (a partial breast is visible).
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: Molly is arrested for running an illegal gambling operation; Molly is assaulted and robbed—including having a gun put in her mouth—and we see her wounds as she spends weeks recovering.
Drugs/Alcohol: One character is described as “a drunk”; scenes of drinking and smoking; Molly admits that she eventually became addicted to numerous drugs. Note also that the story is about a woman who runs a poker game and who learns the ropes by running another man's poker game for extremely wealthy individuals, so we see multiple scenes of card playing.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Molly's Game is quite a vehicle for Jessica Chastain, a consistently outstanding actress who does everything she can with the material given her. Sorkin's fans will also enjoy his energetic (at times) retelling of Molly’s story.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Those hoping Sorkin's work as a director will be as impressive as his work as a writer will instead see a first-time filmmaker who falls prey to not knowing when enough's enough. The film should've been lean but instead feels overextended, and Sorkin, who both adapted the book on which the film is based and directed Molly's Game, has to take most of the blame.
Molly's Game, directed by Aaron Sorkin, opens in theaters January 5, 2018. It runs 140 minutes and stars Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, Brian D’Arcy James and Graham Greene. Watch the trailer for Molly's Game here.
Christian Hamaker brings a background in both Religion (M.A., Reformed Theological Seminary) and Film/Popular Culture (B.A., Virginia Tech) to his reviews. He still has a collection of more than 100 laserdiscs, and for DVDs patronizes the local library. Streaming? What is this "streaming" of which you speak? He'll figure it out someday. Until then, his preferred viewing venue is a movie theater. Christian is happily married to Sarah, a parent coach and author of Hired@Home and Ending Sibling Rivalry.
Publication date: January 3, 2018
Image courtesy: ©STX