MOLLY’S GAME

Screenwriting and directing are two completely different beasts. Writing a great screenplay requires an immense amount of craft and skill, but it’s a different kind of skill than what directing requires. Writing a good story is writing a good story, but actually bringing it to life visually with cameras, actors, and crew members is another feat in and of itself. You have to tell the story that’s written in the script, but communicate it in a cinematic language that the audience understands, but also keeps them invested. While technically they are two separate art forms, they’re symbiotic art forms that require each other to make the final product complete. Sometimes a single person can pull it off, sometimes they can’t.

Former Olympian Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) is suddenly arrested by the FBI, accused of running some illegal high stakes gambling operation years prior. With a federal conviction sure to be on the way, she hires lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) to come to her defense. During their work together, Molly reveals through numerous flashbacks how the entire gambling operation came to be, who the major players were, and how it affected her psyche. How deep does Molly’s Game really go? 

Aaron Sorkin is one the most prominent names in the screenwriting industry, known for writing critically acclaimed films such as The Social NetworkMoneyball, and Steve Jobs. That’s all he ever has been, with Molly’s Game being his first foray into the director’s chair. Well, as a directorial debut, it certainly shows. Based off of Molly Bloom’s own book about these events, it feels like a book being adapted a bit too literally. A majority of the story is told through incessant voiceovers from Molly, detailing all of the events all the way down to the emotions of the players. Chastain knows how to read a script well, but it got so tedious after a while when we would get to the next event, only for her to explain everything there. Sure, it makes sense artistically, because she’s telling the story to Charlie, but a bit more visual storytelling would be nice. I don’t need Molly to tell me, “Then I got addicted to drugs,” when all I need to see is her guzzling down pills by the bottle. 

While the poker games are all high stakes, I could hardly feel any stakes for our characters. Even with federal charges being levied against her, I just never felt a sense of danger for Molly. It could be because all of the legal proceedings take a big backseat to her flashbacks. Some of her anecdotes go on for so long, that I sometimes forgot there was an entire present-day, legal section to care about. A lot of the plot consists of Molly talking to Charlie in his office, she goes over one significant aspect of her games, back some present day legal stuff, back to a new flashback of a new period of time, then back to Charlie’s office. It just felt dull and tiresome, and I really didn’t care if Molly would win, or not, mostly because she’s not a very sympathetic person. 

Sorkin’s trademark is his highly exaggerated, rapid paced dialogue, which is usually delivered by actors screaming in each other’s faces. The dialogue is fun, snappy, and clever… maybe a bit too clever at times. I don’t mind exaggerated dialogue, but Sorkin sometimes takes it too far and it ends up being hokey. It allowed the actors to express a lot more range, though. Jessica Chastain is one of the finest actresses working today. She can give her character a lot of depth through simple and subtle mannerisms, and her cold, steely demeanor gives Molly a lot of personality, yet a lot of mystery. Idris Elba does a fine job with his limited character, and Kevin Costner plays the cliché, impossible to impress father to perfection. They certainly recite Sorkin dialogue very well, but their characters are your usual clichés, especially near the end where Sorkin tries to tie everything together in an awkward dramatic bow. 

That doesn’t mean that Molly’s Game isn’t interesting nor entertaining, because it certainly is for the most part. Sorkin still shows that he can be a decent director with lots of flashy camera movements and fast paced editing, but he still has plenty of room for improvement. The performances are all stellar and the content is very interesting, but perhaps some more experienced direction could have made it a bit more riveting. Will Sorkin step behind the camera again? We don’t know yet, but I certainly hope he does, just to see how he improves a brand new craft for himself. 

6.5/10

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