Molly's Game (2017)
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Chastain and Elba give fiery performances that help the film retain some of its shine as it moves toward its conclusion. Shoutout to Camp, d'Arcy James, and Cera for their small but solid roles. The film overall is a bit too long and does inspire some fatigue, but the story is engaging enough and Chastain is an absolute star. There's nothing particularly remarkable about the way the film is constructed, but it manages to keep you reasonably entertained.
Great film, love the fact this is based on a true story, and what a great story it was. The rest of the cast were great and the directing was decent, although too much back and forth between many timelines.
8.5 rounded up to 9/10 from me for Chastain's excellent performance.
Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba both give dynamic performances here. Elba makes a great presence as the defense attorney who tries to grapple with the sheer size and scope of Bloom's considerable legal problems as her gambling operation becomes progressively more mired in the criminal world. Even if you find Chastain's character cold and detached, her performance here is strikingly realistic.
Alas, we have the film's ending. Where the film goes wrong is this highly far-fetched and phony attempt to humanize Bloom beginning with a chance encounter with her father at a skating rink in Central Park. A corny scene does not sink a film all by itself, but unfortunately this scene was followed up with an equally ridiculous courtroom sequence that struck me as unduly and comically political. It's always a shame for a film to look first-rate for most of the way only to collapse in the final act. Recommended mostly on the strength of the performances, even if the film as a whole misses the mark in the end.
What makes the Direction so unfortunate, is that the true story of Molly Bloom is inherently interesting. Along with Chastain (who delivers a solid performance despite it all), there are fine actors like Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Graham Greene and many others in the cast. But, Sorkin's over-reliance on narration squelches the drama. Oddly, about 3/4 of the way through the 140 minute movie, the narration subsides substantially. Almost two hours in - and we suddenly shift into what resembles a normal motion picture. Those final scenes may not be great, but, at least one can appreciate what the actors are doing without being told in advance every nuance. Finally, there's Sorkin's well known disdain for keeping to the facts of the true story. The central metaphor for the movie how Bloom had a tragic accident that ended her career sending her life into disorder. But, the real Molly Bloom never had a Wide World of Sports style "agony of defeat" fall. Sorkin pulled it out his ass. Nobody is dumb enough to believe that a Hollywood movie with big stars is going to tell the full unvarnished truth, but Sorkin is a serial abuser. Instead of the usual movie disclaimer: "Although based on a true story, some events and characters have been changed for dramatic purposes" - Sorkin's disclaimer should read: "This is fiction, but, but some true events have been included to sell this to the public". Also, Bloom did not have a tough but powerful black Attorney by her side with a cute precocious child (which just so happens to closely mirror the young Molly Bloom who - you guessed it! - was also a cute precocious child).
Much of this wouldn't matter so much if MOLLY'S GAME worked better as a movie. Unfortunately, it's all tell without much show.
Jessica Chastain is incredible as Molly Chastain. She makes the character feel real, holds the camera's attention, and helps us to understand the underlying motivations behind Molly's actions.
I particularly liked the chemistry between Idris Elba (who plays Molly's lawyer Jaffey). Their scenes are some of the most electric in the way they play off each other's emotions and spar with the great dialogue barbs Aaron Sorkin wrote so wonderfully.
Speaking of Aaron Sorkin, for a first time director, he absolutely knocks this out of the park. He conferred with his friend & director David Fincher on strategies for shooting this film along the way and he go great advice because the innovative camera angles, control of time (a key sign that a director knows what they are doing), and assured pacing make this one of the most enrapturing and compelling dramas of 2017.
I would give this movie two stars, but there are some solid performances (especially from Idris Elba). Therefore my score is 4.
Being a sucker for great stories of real life characters, it is easy to see what Aaron Sorkin saw in the very true tale of Molly Bloom. The American ethos of being No. 1 combined with the isolation and principles of its heroine make "Molly's Game" a tremendous playing field for Sorkin's directorial debut.
Even though he has dealt with themes of power, loyalty and the darker side of entrepreneurial endeavors in "The Social Network", "Newsroom", "Steve Jobs" and "Moneyball", what sets this story apart is that Sorkin chooses to layer the rise-and-fall of the titular character with questions about business morals and the loss of a more principled economic system, that has been washed away by fast-buck artists and fatalistic devil-may-care attitudes.
"Molly's Game" has a speedy pace, marvelous performances by both Chastain and Idris Elba, as her lawyer, and is directed with a sure hand. Which makes Sorkin's first directorial outing a joy to watch.
It's two-hour-plus running time glides by like a breeze and ends on a corny yet truthful note about the virtues of failure, that is a glimmer of hope in times of struggle, as well as one of the tenets of screen writing.
The fight, the hustle and the failure never end, but then again, so do the rewards in their own funny way. You win some, you lose some, and Sorkin never seems to forget how close he is to the edge.
A friend of mine that's big into film raved about the film because other people have, but as someone that read the book, I just thought it was awful. I can't recommend it.
Her duties include setting up his lucrative weekly poker game, which hosts some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Soon she has cut Dean loose, and is hosting huge stake matches in Los Angeles and New York. As her own personal fortune increases so does the attentions of the IRS and the criminal underworld towards her and her game.
Director and co-writer Aaron Sorkin starts the film well, with a well executed and wince- inducing freestyle skiing sequence. From here we are in LA, and the poker sequences are fluid and engrossing in a Goodfellas style that is indebted to Scorsese without being derivative in a manner of American Hustle. There is plenty of fluid camera movement and excellent visualizations of poker hands, and Sorkin is able to use simple things like shot- reverse shot in a creative manner. Sorkin has added some electricity to this most unfilmable of sports, showing Rounders how it should be done.
Jessica Chastain looks phenomenal throughout, and credit should be given to a costume department that varies a wide range of stunning outfits. It's clear she dominates the room and hypnotizes these powerful men, whose extravagance and indifference to extreme wealth is intoxicating to watch (a highlight is when one player tries to leave a Monet painting as collateral).
Bill Camp puts in a great performance as Harlan Eustice, a seemingly competent poker player who starts to feel the heat. Stealing the pot is Player X as played by Michael Cera. Here he is using his youthful demeanour as a mask for a wicked personality, his most malevolent role since Francois of Youth In Revolt.
This is a first directorial effort of prolific screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and it is with a certain irony that one of the weakest elements to Molly's Game is the script. There is an undue focus on voice-over and an only fleetingly involving legal case in which Molly is wrapped up in years after her stint as a hostess has ended.
The real high stakes finale happens as Molly's empire starts to crumble. That an audience is left with a resolution filled with hokey courtroom drama and cloying family moments between her and her father (Kevin Costner) afterwards dulls the film. Sorkin seems to have made the same mistake as Molly Bloom; thinking that being in an interesting environment makes you an interesting person outside of it.
Another key difference between Sorkin here and Scorsese's best work is the score. It is ordinary throughout, except in the legal cases when it is also bogged down by dull, obvious cues. While Molly's account of a poker world few of us have seen before captivate regardless, the music is another dud element in repetitive legal scenes.
What was amusing is that Molly's lawyers are played by Michael Kostroff who starred in The Wire as lawyer Maurice Levy, and Idris Elba who was criminal/wannabe businessman Stringer Bell in the same series. This footnote aside, I found nothing of particular interest in this chunk of the plot, which leaves the whole work dangerously close to a flop.
Sounds intriguing and exciting, right? Well, not when you watch the film, they somehow make it all look rather dull. We see games being organized and Molly being hit on. The film looks a bit like a trailer or music video. Things are happening, well mostly the same thing over and over really. The games are run in a very straight forward manner, none of the characters are very engaging.
When the investigation process starts I found myself still not caring. Jessica Chastain wears a lot of dresses which expose a lot of cleavage. Her cleavage should have received top billing here. Nothing else really mattered.
What should have been an awesome story, just wasn't at all.
Of course this after we watch her being arrested by armed FBI agents in the middle of the night in an earlier scene. Sorkin does this throughout the movie intertwining events before and after she was taken in. It was works for the most part however it does slow down the pace at times when the audience gets invested in Molly's activities before her arrest (running the poker games) and then Sorkin suddenly cuts to events after which are far less attention grabbing (her legal trouble). I will say though that these less intriguing scenes are made more watchable by Chastain and Elba's performances. They are both really good in this movie and two of the strongest parts of 'Molly's Game'. There are a few other noteworthy performances as well namely Kevin Costner as Molly's father, Michael Cera as Player X (apparently based on Tobey Maguire!) and Chris O'Dowd as another one of the poker players. The other major strength of the movie is the script which is full of wit which one has come to expect from Sorkin. This gives Chastain a lot of ammunition to shine and she uses it brilliantly.
The constant voice over does get a little distracting quite often especially when filled with Sorkin's signature choc-a-bloc style dialogue. Thought again it less irritating due to Chastain's fine performance of it. I will also add that the direction is a tad undeveloped but then again this is Sorkin's debut so I'm sure he can only improve from here on out. Despite this though he does use some nice techniques to make high stakes hands of poker more exciting to watch. Overall this a decent directorial debut for Sorkin and one that will hopefully lead to better films from him in the future.
I think that it sits currently at 7.6 on this site and 80% on Rotten Tomatoes because so many people WANT Sorkin's directorial debut to be great... But it's just.... not.
Molly brags about her accomplishments and her intelligence throughout the movie (yes, the braggadocio is boring in itself) , but in the end she just exploited simple concepts from someone who she describes as an "idiot." Alright... So you supposedly put off attending law school at an Ivy League school to put yourself in the feds' cross-hairs with this "idiot's" schemes? Brilliant.
There are also the lacking technical aspects of the editing and camerawork such as the ESPN-like side panels when the guys are playing poker. The minutiae and graphics are mind-numbingly boring to novices and professionals alike. Jessica Chastain does voice over while they play with so much garrulity and monotony. It would have been much easier just to SHOW the game. Instead of, "Max thinks that Jake has a jack, which would give him two of a kind, but Jake is overselling his bluff a bit too much which tipped off Max and made him--" just show it. We can see it: "That dude had a great hand, but he tipped it off, so the other guy folded." Wow. So complicated. It doesn't require paragraphs.
There is also dull legalistic minutiae in which Molly is showcasing her intellect and supposedly correcting her own lawyer in the process. Again, who cares? She didn't want to actually apply that intellect in the way that her lawyer did, so now she must pay millions to him instead. Wow. Brilliant.
The acting is shaky. Jessica Chastain is undeniably sexy, but she has all of the charisma of a DMV worker. For me, she just can't pull off leading lady.
I majored in psychology, so I want to conclude this review by stating that it's ironic that Sorkin focused on the minutiae of poker and the law, but he is apparently lost on the details of my science. At one point when Molly is an adolescent she says to her father that she thinks that Freud was a "moron" and a "quack." Her father bristles at these insults and says something like, "I'M NOT A QUACK." Well, although I respect Freud immensely and most of the theories of modern psychology are derived from his theories, even during the early '90s (when I assume this exchange occurred) few psychologists were heavily invested in the Freudian paradigm. I don't know why so many writers think that psychologists are obsessed with Freudian ideas. Anyway, this film is a sh** show.
As a first-time director, he delivers the same speed and ferocity with the creative camera work and cuts in the opening scene of Molly's Game. The sequence is a whirlwind of clever explanations through narration and visuals. Immediately it becomes clear-this guy knows what he's doing behind the camera.
The remainder of the first hour zooms along in a similarly spectacular fashion. Jessica Chastain shines as Molly Bloom, the poker princess. She exhibits the class, composure, and tenacity required of someone who ran the most elegant poker games in the country for billionaires, athletes, and actors. And, most importantly, she smoothly rattles off all the light-speed Sorkin dialogue in a natural-sounding cadence. The movie doesn't work without the perfect actress playing Molly. Chastain is perfect.
While Chastain delivers her powerhouse performance with swagger, Idris Elba (playing her fictitious lawyer), falls a bit flat. I don't blame Elba, who has consistently proven to be a more than capable performer. His part feels underwritten. As skilled as Sorkin as with dialogue, he does not always create the most compelling or complete supporting characters in his stories.
Elba does deliver one devastating speech with great earnestness. It's a touch preachy, but he says what had needed to be said the entire movie. I was grateful.
The poker scenes bring a lot of fun to the table (sorry, it was right there). Each character represents a real-life celebrity or rich guy or at least an amalgam of a few real-life players. I had great fun guessing which character was which celebrity as I watched. Then I looked up the names later (obviously). That part was fun too.
At some point about halfway through, the movie hits a lull. It drags. It's never boring, but it doesn't hit with quite the same fury. Not every scene feels necessary, so the length becomes noticeably extensive. The movie definitely needs a trim.
After regaining its footing, the movie seems to be on the way to a satisfying conclusion. Then a bizarre ice-skating scene leads into an unwatchably awful three-minute therapy session. I nearly covered eyes and plugged my ears. Tough to forgive that one.
Despite the one horrendous moment, the movie offers far more good than bad. It's fun. It's smart. It's a commendable directorial debut from a long-time writing superstar, Aaron Sorkin, and it's one of Jessica Chastain's finest performances to date.
Overall the movie feels rushed for the sake of pleasing people with ADR. A couple of examples of why Sorkin, who is supposed to be one of the best writers, didn't do a good job here.
Anyone that has played poker for a little bit will know if they have the nuts. Don't tell us they have the nuts and then pretend we should believe they would fold when within one minute you tell us they don't like to fold.
Makes no sense. Also, don't have a high-level sophisticated lawyer not know what in propria persona means. (it means as your own person and refers to people that appear WITHOUT a lawyer.) You want us to believe he didn't know that but that Molly knew?
Then lawyers and defendants don't sit with the public in court. They are within the bar, and why was she not in custody like the other defendants?
Then there were just situations that were not believable. It's just written like a bad courtroom drama, all situations that would never happen.
Just a lot of repartee, which unfortunately makes me aware of the writing, not emerging in the movie. And then the constant sidetracked with nonsensical stories.
Molly Bloom is a real person, born in 1978. She spent much of her childhood and teen years in sports training, she was a skier and Olympic aspirant, but jer sports career was cut short by an accident. Shortly after that event she became involved in the high-stakes poker games, at the edge of the law. While the money that the games she organized went up, her life spiraled down, she became involved in a big scandal and lawsuit involving the mafia, accused of money laundering and organizing illegal gambling. The whole operation fell apart during a big FBI crush-down on illegal games and gambling. The film describes her ascending and downfall, the inquiry and the trial during which she refused to become a state witness, preferring to plead guilty and eventually avoiding a prison sentence.
Much of the film relies on acting performance of Jessica Chastain. She does a find job in describing a woman of character and ambition, who makes the wrong choices at several moments of her life, but finds the inner strength to assume responsibility and change the path of her own destiny. Unfortunately, Chastain's acting is not enough to save the film. Much of the screen time (which exceeds two hours) is spent in legalities and technical details about poker. You can follow these for a couple of times by a couple of minutes, but here they come back for almost all the duration of the movie. The second aspect that I did not like was the way the film describes the building of the relationship between Molly and her lawyer. There are several dialogs written by script author Aaron Sorkin that filmed director Aaron Sorkin liked so much that he forced the actors to declaim them at high pace, almost with no break for breathing. They looked to me theatrical and not credible. Another weak part in the script was the psychoanalytic explanation of Molly's choices which we get in a teary scene by the end of the film that contains a discussion between the hero and her father, who happens to be a clinical psychologist. The fact that the role is played by Kevin Costner did not help either, this is for Costner another bad choice among many that he made in his career.
"Molly's Game" is probably close to the book and may be faithful to the real events which happened quite recently. They may have actual resonance which may be enough for a TV documentary drama but it is not enough to make of it a good feature film. Hints to real persons, actors or other celebrities are not relevant, especially for for international audiences. In the absence of true drama or characters evolution, we are served with a lot of legal and poker technicalities, and with a conventional and melodramatic view of the whole story. The result is verbose and boring, and seems even longer than its 140 minutes of screen time.