Molly's Game – movie reviewby James Robins
A tale set in the murky world of high-stakes poker shows even the great Aaron Sorkin can sometimes fail to fire.
The very best of his scenes are like jousts, a galloping run-up to an almighty and conclusive clash: Tom Cruise vs Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men; Jesse Eisenberg vs Rooney Mara in The Social Network; Or approximately all of the 87 episodes of The West Wing that he scripted.
The impulse for torrents of words does not let up in Molly’s Game, Sorkin’s directorial debut about the heady rise and demeaning downfall of Molly Bloom, a real-life poker-game runner who inadvertently fell in with New York’s Russian mob.
We get the obligatory narration introducing Molly (Jessica Chastain) as a potential Olympic skier and the tumble that dashed her chances – a snappy sequence that owes much to the opening of Adam McKay’s The Big Short.
But the narration doesn’t stop. As Molly moves to LA and learns how to get a dozen deep-pocketed show-offs around a card table (including Michael Cera playing deliciously against type), then trades Hollywood for Wall Street, that punchy narration just barrels on. And on.
If there is a basic rule of cinema, it is this: show rather than tell, observe rather than describe, or allude to those emotions or actions that mere language can never attempt to convey. In Molly’s Game, Sorkin both shows and tells. What is described by a disembodied voice is then repeated on-screen by the actors. An example: Chastain details Molly’s descent into drug addiction, accompanied by a quick montage of her necking pills. Which means that half the movie is entirely redundant. Close your eyes and you only miss out on the array of Molly’s deep-necked dresses. It feels very hectoring. It might have been a better podcast than a movie.
When Molly and her lawyer, played by Idris Elba, wind themselves up for the trademark Sorkin joust, the exchange is merely shouting, with none of the quick-wittedness we might expect. Nor is there anything to be gained from Chastain’s impassioned performance in a movie that is pitched as a portrayal of a woman fighting for her dignity against cash-grabbing authorities. Molly tried to beat powerful men at their own game. Perhaps the winning trick was to refuse to play their game altogether.
Video: eOne ANZ
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This article was first published in the February 10, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.