By Pat Mullen
Rounders meets Miss Sloane in the ridiculously entertaining poker drama Molly’s Game. Jessica Chastain doubles down as poker princess Molly Bloom in this hotly anticipated directorial debut from writer Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, Steve Jobs). Chastain follows up her stellar performance as high-powered lobbyist Liz Sloane with a similar and equally electrifying turn as Bloom, a smart and fast-talking hustler in this high stakes true story of an entrepreneur who built and lost an underground poker empire for the stars.
Molly’s Game energetically chronicles Bloom’s journey from world-class athlete (the film opens with her crashing hard on the moguls and seeing dreams of Olympic gold fold) to pit boss as Chastain narrates Molly’s fast-talking, smooth-operating story in witty voiceover. The film centres on Bloom’s 2014 arrest for operating an illegal poker operation, along with trumped-up racketeering charges alleging ties to the Russian mob, and lets her explain how and why a woman who could have done anything decided to run poker games on the sly. The approach makes Bloom sympathetic regardless of what one thinks of her career choices.
Bloom’s lawyer, Charlie Jaffey (a reliable Idris Elba), hesitates to defend a client with such notoriety, but Molly refuses to cut a deal, name the names of her A-list clients or, more significantly, sell two million dollars’ worth of debts her clients accumulated over the years. Simply put, she doesn’t want easy money off trading names to bookies will break legs to collect.
Sorkin assembles a fine ensemble of stars as Molly’s clients, especially Michael Cera who is a hoot as a skeezeball Hollywood card shark. (Bloom’s clients included stars like Tobey Maguire, Ben Affleck, and Leonardo DiCaprio.)
Chastain speaks fluent Sorkinese after the Aaron Sorkin-y Miss Sloane and really has a handle on the rat-a-tat energy of the writer’s whip-smart screenplay. Molly Bloom is Liz Sloane with a better wardrobe and a more plausible legal outcome, but it’s a bit too bad that Sorkin didn’t the script hand off to a seasoned director like Miss Sloane’s John Madden, since his hand behind the camera isn’t quite a steady as his hands with the screenplay. A perfectly good two-pair to a full house, say. Even if Sorkin’s visual style leaves something to be desired, Molly’s Game sees him in his element writing some of the best dialogue you’ll hear this year with performances to match it.