9/10 Aaron Sorkin has been holding out on us.
Molly’s Game, the revered writer’s directorial debut, is based on the life of underground poker mistress Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain, with Samantha Isler and Piper Howell playing her as a teenager and a child). The film follows her through three parallel time periods — her youth before scoliosis ruined a promising skiing career, her life running exclusive high-stakes underground poker games in Los Angeles and New York, and the federal prosecution against her after the Russian mob started using her games to launder money.
Molly’s Game like a barrel-aged, handcrafted moonshine bottle of a movie. It’s high quality and meticulously thought out, but at the same time sultry, slutty and turbo-charged. When you take two of the best actors in the world in Chastain and Idris Elba and have them play out a script by one of the best writers in the world, you get a really high-end movie. That’s not hard math to do. Molly’s Game is absolutely scintillating from start to finish.
Poker scenes are a real boon for the movie. Where almost every other game pushes viewers out when portrayed in film, poker sucks viewers in because it’s so much more a game of manipulation and personal interaction than of cards. Any well-done scene about Chess or hockey will sacrifice gameplay for character interaction, but poker is unique in that you don’t have to make that trade-off — more gameplay is more character interaction.
It’s fair to think of Sorkin as a modern Shakespeare, not as a comparison of quality but as a comparison of flaws. They’re both prose heavy and primarily known for insults and witticisms, both play fast and loose with the histories they relate — this is Sorkin’s fourth straight biopic, and the others were just a bit fictionalized — they both fill their scripts with pop-culture references that aren’t going to age well.
Sorkin came into this as really the last superstar writer who was only a writer. Almost everyone else whose scripts are distinctive enough to merit their name getting attention for just their scripts — Quentin Tarantino, M. Night Shyamalan and Joss Whedon are the only ones that spring to mind — also obviously direct.
While other directors have done just fine with Sorkin’s work — looking at you, David Finsher — Sorkin brings a particular calmness to his searing dialogue. Where other movies, particularly Steve Jobs, make viewers feel the density of his prose, as if the movie can barely handle all the petty fury it has to offer, Molly’s Game is calmer, with a bit more room to breathe at 140 minutes and Bloom’s sardonic narration stretching everything out.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.