January is usually a quiet month for films; it’s usually called Hollywoods ‘Dump Months’ – films that studios are taking a chance on or weren’t worthy of the awards season. Not so with this. Aaron Sorkin has written some of the most intriguing films over the years including; The Social Network, Steve Jobs and the TV show The West Wing, but Molly’s Game pulls the writer into the directors chair for the first time in a tantalising story about the hidden worlds of high stake card games for the rich and famous. It’s a solid movie, with a great cast and a story that keeps flipping your bets throughout.
Jessica Chastain portrays Molly Bloom, an ex-Olympic skier that restarts her life after a pretty disastrous accident. She moves to LA, works bad jobs and lives a quiet life until she’s pulled in to helping run a gambling night for one of her bosses. It’s completely legal, but always a sense of being underground, and Molly wants in on the action. Stakes are raised, and the games keep getting bigger and more extravagant, leading to many blocks in the road and something went wrong – the film opens with her being arrested by armed FBI agents. From the outset, you wonder whether the happy ending will come.
These kinds of films always attract people as it uncovers the world you never knew existed; like The Wolf of Wall Street, knowing that these mega-bucks games are happening in the fanciest of hotels is captivating, and Sorkin captures it beautifully with sweeping shots, character development and huge story flips that turn you on to rooting for Molly. Where Sorkin excels is still his screenwriting, captured in the way that Chastain delivers his words with a sense of freshness and real-life talk, where’s minimal faff and more communicative direction that the majority of new films, and both Chastain’ and Idris Elba hijack the script to create a fascinatingly taught relationship between client and lawyer. They both deliver award-worthy performances and it does feel cheated that they’ve missed awards seasons.
The only downside of this film is a thread that runs through the entirety of the 2 hour 20 runtime – narration. A little bit is always useful to set scenes and bring audiences up to speed, like when the rules of poker are needed to be explained for people like me that have no idea what’s going on. But when hardly a scene goes past without Chastain interrupting the flow and explaining something, or taking the viewers onto new scenes, it ruptures the films ability to show what’s happening, rather than tell. If it weren’t for Sorkin’s writing and the performances, this might have been the entire films downfalll. There are moments where narration’s absence works perfectly, like a surprisingly poignant scene with Molly and her father near the end of the film that catches you off guard, but ditching the constant thought-tracking and allowing the film to breathe might have pulled the release back a couple of months and thrown it directly into the Oscar den.
Molly’s Game is such a strong start to 2018 and allowing Sorkin’s directional muscles to stretch in this wickedly interesting story of Molly Bloom shows he has the talents to go past the script. The debut is strong, and subsequent films will only become more daring and experimental, harnessing that raw streak his storytelling possessing onto the silver screen.