Care to play Molly’s Game?
Words by Alana Bruce
I don’t know much about poker, but it always seems so sexy. So when I had the chance to review Molly’s Game, my little ears perked up – I was intrigued.
Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, Interstellar) gives a provocative performance as Molly Bloom, a world-class Olympic skier who suffers an injury meaning she can no longer compete. Molly finds herself caught up in the underground poker world and moves up through the ranks, soon hosting her own games, which quickly become the most exclusive in Los Angeles and New York City. The inevitable slide into drugs and corruption ensues, and Molly finds herself arrested by the FBI and facing federal charges with only her lawyer (Idris Elba, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) on her side.
Molly’s Game is actually the short version of the longer book title that the movie is based on: Molly’s Game: From Hollywood's Elite to Wall Street's Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker. The book is written by Molly Bloom and is a true account of her life in the poker world. As soon as I heard this, I was hooked – nothing draws me in more than knowing that this really happened to a real, relatable human.
Molly’s narration through the movie took some getting used to, but definitely helped me to relate to her as a character. She’s almost too perfect, too silky smooth. If I hadn’t been able to hear her voice and thoughts, I don’t think I would have liked her. The narration gave a lot of honest insight into Molly’s mind and made it more of a book-like experience.
Crime dramas aren’t usually my box of popcorn, but I really enjoyed this one. Aaron Sorkin (screenwriter for The Social Network, Steve Jobs) ace his directorial debut with this fast-paced peek into the dark underbelly of gambling. Elba gives a passionate performance as Chastain’s lawyer, balancing the character spectrum with a warmth that complements Chastain’s relentless cool.
I enjoyed Molly’s Game mostly because it was nothing like some of the fluffier movies I sometimes watch. It delved into gritty themes. Themes like the consequences of an overachieving parent on a child’s self-worth, and addiction – both complex and relatable elements of human nature. There’s a sexiness, an allure to something like gambling – the thrill of the risk, the high of the win. How easy it must be to cross the line between gambling giving you power and gambling having power over you.
It did put my own ‘addictions’ (namely, tea and Netflix), into perspective. Molly’s relationship with her dad (Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves, JFK) also gave me an understanding that my father’s expectations of me are actually pretty reasonable! The amount of pressure he put on her made her feel like she could never be enough, which is probably something we can all relate to on some level.
Also, I kind of loved that there was zero fluffy romance in the story. How rare is that? It felt refreshing.
Molly’s Game is a home run in more ways than one
Words by Jack Holloway
When my wife asked me what movies I would compare Molly’s Game to, I answered with Goodfellas and The Big Short. Both of these movies are fast-paced, exciting and funny crime dramas. And that is what Molly’s Game is. Come to find out, writer/director Aaron Sorkin (screenwriter for The Social Network, Steve Jobs) told the Los Angeles Times that Goodfellas and The Big Short were the very movies that he watched for inspiration!
Molly’s Game opens with Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty, Interstellar) in skis, up a snowy mountain, about to begin an Olympic qualifying run. From the second the movie starts, we are thrown into action and introduced to a fierce, ambitious woman who has her whole life sought to defy odds and reach greatness. Chastain tells her story via voice-over, in long, quickly spoken monologues characteristic of Sorkin’s style.
While Molly was more than qualified to go to Harvard Law, she instead found herself in the world of underground poker. Except when it turns out that some of the players are Russian mobsters, the FBI comes knocking on her door with an indictment. Her only hope of getting off, she is told, is to share the dirt she has on the rich and famous who come to her games.
The riveting opening sets the pace for the movie. Sorkin is known for his fast-paced, dialogue-filled movies, and this one is no exception. Like The Social Network and Steve Jobs, Molly’s Game (the first movie he directed himself) runs like a two-hour car chase, only using words instead of cars. What always amazes me about Sorkin’s style is that he pulls it off without overwhelming the audience. The movie is fast, but easy to follow. There is a lot of dialogue, but we don’t miss any of it. And it is incredibly well-written. Fans of Sorkin’s work will not be disappointed.
The dialogue is greatly aided, however, by phenomenal performances. Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Luther) is perfect for the part of Charlie Jaffrey, a [fictional] social justice attorney who agrees to work with Molly when he discovers she is not just a greedy “Poker Princess” who wants to get off the hook.
Perhaps even stronger is Chastain’s performance as Molly Bloom. Throughout the movie, Molly is placed before men with power, and she has to hold her own and establish herself not just in the midst of, but in opposition to this world of men. Chastain’s Molly is a truly powerful woman, who cares and controls, defends and attacks, opens up and shuts down, one right after the other. Her character has serious depth and power.
In the poker world, the women are usually there to serve the male players. As Chastain told The New York Times, women hang around poker games to bring the men food or give them massages. They were also expected to dress like “uber sexual being[s],” so that, in order to get “the guys to listen to her, to acknowledge her, to see her, [Molly] in a way had to objectify herself.” The real Molly Bloom told npr that she had become sick of "oppressive men and having to play by their rules."
Chastain said to The New York Times, “This is a film about gender politics, patriarchy.” And indeed it is. At one point in the movie, Molly quotes Winston Churchill, who said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” 2017 was a year in which every day felt like moving from failure to failure, from bad news to more bad news. In the time of #MeToo and #TimesUp, it was quite edifying to watch a movie about a woman who, as she says in the movie, is “hard to kill.”
May we all be hard to kill like Molly Bloom.