Tuesday, May 22, 2018

In short: Molly’s Game (2017)

Failed freestyle ski Olympic skier Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) finds her true profession when she first helps a vile Hollywood producer run a high-stakes poker game just this side of being illegal gambling, and then turns it into her own. Apparently, the FBI has some problems with this sort of thing, particular when organized crime sits at the table.

The directorial debut of – much beloved though not necessarily by me – screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is an interesting example of the dangers of basing your film not just on “a true story” but on an actual memoir about said “true story”. So if that memoir/”true story” has an incredibly obnoxious Frank Capra ending, your film is going to get one too, even if it tonally doesn’t fit what came before at all. Though, to be fair, I can’t imagine many films this particular ending would fit with.

Other problems are that Jessica Chastain’s Molly Bloom is just a bit too perfect, too nice for what she’s actually doing and a bit too likeable for the film ever to sell her tale as anything but a cinematic fairy-tale about a woman who is done wrong despite her being super-awesome. Even when she steals the producer’s game she’s in the right, the way the film tells it. I could have gone without the Freudian bullshit between her and her psychoanalyst Dad (Kevin Costner!), and the film’s dubious general ideas about psychology too.

There’s quite a bit to like here, though. More often than not, Sorkin does a pretty decent visual Scorsese – circa Goodfellas – imitation. The film’s certainly not boring to look at, and keeps moving along at a merry pace, despite a two hour plus running time.

The dialogue is fun and clever - if, in typical Sorkin style, bereft of any concept of different people having different patterns of speech - while the cast doesn’t just include the always excellent Chastain (who by the way off-screen-monologues with the best of ‘em) and Costner in a good mood, but also Idris Elba (getting some quality expressive shouting time in), Michael Cera (finding his inner creep), and a horde of other good people doing good work.

All this adds up to a film that’s neither as good in the mildly horrifying “quality cinema” kind of way it is clearly aiming for, nor actually saying terribly much about the state of America as it seems to think it does, but that is certainly worth spending an evening with, even if it is only to enjoy the actors strutting their stuff and looking at the pretty pictures.

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