Aaron Sorkin’s new film is not quite a Royal Flush, but it’s close.
Molly’s Game is an intelligent and in-depth look at the world of underground high-stakes celebrity poker that explores failure and perseverance.
Starring Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, Sorkin’s film takes the audience on a journey through the life of Olympic-skier-turned-poker-princess Molly Bloom as she navigates the game and the law. It is at times lavish and mesmerizing, and at other times dark and personal.
As his directorial debut, it is interesting to note that Molly’s Game follows a number of “Sorkinian” tropes that carry over from his other projects — such as A Few Good Men and The Social Network — the most prominent of which is his heavy use of snappy, expositional dialogue.
If there is one thing we know about Aaron Sorkin, it’s that his characters love to talk.
This is both helpful and jarring.
As a novice of the game myself, I found Molly’s explanations of how poker is played to be useful in understanding what’s going on in a scene, giving proper context to the moment as it happens.
However, the exposition is likely to lose you if you’re not paying close attention.
(No bathroom breaks for you!)
In addition, Sorkin’s heavy-handed use of exposition comes across as an anxiety that the characters and the dialogue are not quite connecting.
In the opening scene alone, while Molly prepares for a ski-run we are given explanations about wind-speed, angle, checking her line, how volunteers spread pine boughs along the base of the hill so that the skiers can gauge distance, the improbability of an accident, how she had hurt her spine when she was a child and how it would be affected again.
In other scenes, Molly and Charles Jaffey go into great detail about varying legal terms, explaining what they mean and how they may or may not apply to Molly’s case. Is all of this absolutely necessary? Or is Sorkin just putting his copious amount of research to use?
There is so much going on at any given time that the interventions of exposition throughout the film feel more like fourth-wall-breaking moments of clarification from Sorkin, just to make sure we are all on the same page.
Still, Sorkin’s dialogue is as witty as ever, as fans of The West Wing will tell you. Everything is fast-paced, and when the characters have finished discussing one thing, or Molly has finished explaining a hand of poker, we are on to the next.
It does make sense, however, given that Molly is a hyper-intelligent character that can absorb and relate things to her audience in rapid succession. The heavy dialogue does put us firmly in her busy headspace.
What is somewhat unfortunate is the fact that Molly’s power is often dependent upon her relation to men. She is far more of a player in this game than she is the dealer, and at some point we just want to see her flip the table on the system.
So while Molly’s Game does present some challenges to the audience in terms of pacing, Sorkin’s film is still gripping, and a crucial gaze into the male-dominated world interrupted by Molly. Molly is an extremely motivated and well-realized character that audiences will find no trouble rooting for, even as she navigates a world on the other side of the law.
I’d recommend Molly’s Game to fans of Aaron Sorkin’s work, fans of Jessica Chastain, or anyone who wants to see Michael Cera play an offbeat character. Idris Elba also gives a standout performance, and while Kevin Costner is mostly absent, his performance bookends the film nicely.
Molly’s Game 7.5/10