I first became aware of the magic of Aaron Sorkin back in 2010, when I watched David Fincher’s The Social Network, which is one of my favourite films of all time. It’s not often you watch a David Fincher movie and don’t walk out talking about David Fincher. I have since watched every single movie written by Aaron Sorkin, and read his scripts too. I even love his work on The Newsroom, although most people don’t. When news broke that Aaron Sorkin was going to make his directorial debut with Molly’s Game, my penis was erect for 12 days straight. Doctors were certain I had not just consumed, but injected viagra directly into my bloodstream. But I was also anxious.
Anxious because while I was certain Sorkin’s writing was going to be tighter than my asshole, translating words to the screen is a whole different ballgame. But within the first couple of minutes, my worry dissolved. This isn’t a bland movie where two people sit in a room and talk really well for two hours. Molly’s Game is as cinematic as it gets and what we see on screen is almost — c’mon now he ain’t Fincher — as interesting as what we hear. Sorkin incorporates some delicious visual styles in his movie. Like the lines that pop up on screen when Molly is calculating the angles before she begins skiing. Sorkin, in Fincher-esque fashion also chooses to use more steady shots on tripods, and hardly any handheld shots. In fact, Sorkin has gone on to say that Fincher was pretty much his Master Yoda throughout the production of this movie.
Just like “The Social Network”, “Steve Jobs” and other works of Sorkin, Molly’s Game follows a protagonist who is incredibly smart. Here, we follow Molly (Jessica Chastain) and her journey from an Olympic-class skier to running the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game consisting of some Hollywood big names, before becoming an FBI target. The film is mostly people talking, if not to each other, then to the audience. But it is engrossing. It’s a movie explores its characters in depth. And it is a movie that by the end of it, I was out of breath.
If you’re looking for a hyper-realistic retelling of Molly Bloom’s journey, then this movie isn’t for you. There’s a fantastical aspect of all of Sorkin’s scripts. He doesn’t just tell stories about smart people. In his movies, ‘smart’ feels like a superpower, where the dialogues are rat-a-tat, quick fire and poetic. Characters give out a vibe that their favourite category on Red Tube is ‘thesaurus.’ Nobody talks like that in real life. But who cares?
Sorkin loves telling stories about successful people. But his movies are never paint-by-numbers. His point isn’t to inspire. He wants to dig deep, peel the layers and explore the psyche of all his characters. His stories are never about heroes, but about passion, obsession, ego, and an unbreakable spirit. And perhaps that makes it all the more inspiring.
Here, it’s no different. We follow Molly, played by Jessica Chastain in a tour de force performance. She’s determined and knows that the phrase knowledge is power isn’t cliche, but the truth. But she’s no angel. Instead of using her intellect to attend law school, like she’s supposed to, she becomes obsessed with Poker. Not playing it, but running games for Hollywood celebrities. It makes her money, loads of money. But it isn’t just money that’s fueling her, it’s something else. She becomes obsessed and eventually goes down a path of drugs, not for the sake of living the high life, but to stay awake and further mould her obsession. Things only get worse when the Russian mob is involved.
It is said that the real-life Molly Bloom told Sorkin that she wanted Jessica Chastain to play her. It’s easy to see why. Chastain is commanding in this role. I’ve never watched a single weak Jessica Chastain performance. Never seen her misdeliver a line (besides Eureka in “Interstellar”). But this is her absolute BEST PERFORMANCE to date. It is a CARDINAL SIN that she did not get an Oscar nomination. This isn’t just a snub, it’s a farce. Jessica Chastain is magnetic.
The supporting cast is excellent all around too. Idris Elba plays Charlie Jaffey, Molly’s lawyer. I could have watched Elba and Chastain go at each other for another hour. Their chemistry is great and Elba is one of the most charismatic actors working today.
Michael Cera plays a character named Player X, whose identity is kept secret by the real-life Molly Bloom (though many believe that player X is Tobey Maguire). Cera plays an insecure control freak who gets pleasure in beating people at poker and making them feel small at the table. Player X’s poker prowess is lore, but what’s funny is that player X doesn’t like playing with pros. Instead, he tells Molly to get him ‘fish’ to feed on — basically a bunch of lousy poker players who just want to sit at the table with Hollywood celebrities. Michael Cera is great! It always amazes me when comedic actors do a total 180-degree turn and tap into their darker side.
What isn’t surprising is Kevin Costner’s performance. Here he’s a cold and headstrong dad. He treats his children, especially Molly like they’re military. He pushes Molly hard during ski training, even when she was a kid, calling her weak when she says she’s tired. She thinks he doesn’t love her. He doesn’t exactly do anything to prove her otherwise. But there’s more to it. More to why he treats her the way he does that provides another level of intrigue.
Molly’s Game is not a movie about poker, per se. Just like The Social Network isn’t a movie about Facebook. Just like Steve Jobs isn’t a movie about Apple. Each of these movies are about character explorations. The Social Network is about a sociopath. Molly’s Game is about obsession. Is the movie perfect? Perhaps not. The sequences detailing Molly’s downfall aren’t as interesting as the rest of the film. But for the most part, Sorkin had me under his spell.
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Sorkin loves telling stories about successful people. But his movies are never paint-by-numbers. His point isn’t to inspire. He wants to dig deep, peel the layers and explore the psyche of all his characters. And throughout this movie, Sorkin had me under his spell.