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Review: Hollywood poker biopic Molly’s Game lucky to break even

PUBLISHED: 17:01 02 January 2018 | UPDATED: 17:15 02 January 2018

Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom surveys a high-stakes poker game in Mollys Game. Photo: Entertainment One/Michael Gibson

Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom surveys a high-stakes poker game in Mollys Game. Photo: Entertainment One/Michael Gibson

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Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin makes his directorial debut with this dramatisation of the rise and fall of Molly Bloom, who dealt herself a winning hand as hostess of Hollywood’s most exclusive poker game with a $50,000 stake to sit at a table.

Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom and Chris ODowd as Douglas Downey in Mollys Game. Photo: Entertainment One/Michael Gibson Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom and Chris ODowd as Douglas Downey in Mollys Game. Photo: Entertainment One/Michael Gibson

Molly’s Game (15)

***

Her game is poker and this movie replicates the game pretty closely: you can’t trust anything about it; it starts well but drags on well past the point of interest, and by the end you will be lucky to break even, let alone walk away ahead.

It’s based on a true story, though what that story is exactly will probably involve some time on the Google afterwards. When a film’s leading character is called Molly Bloom, everything is a potential bluff.

Following on from Miss Sloane, Molly is another of Jessica Chastain’s heartless cow essays. The daughter of a pushy father (Kevin Costner), after narrowly failing to make the US Olympic ski team, she heads off to LA for a pre-law school gap year but stumbles into running a high stakes, celebrity-filled poker game.

A decade later in New York, she is arrested by the FBI who lean on her to help them put away some Russian mobsters. Molly though has her standards and doesn’t want to grass up all her clients.

Jeremy Strong as Dean Keith and Michael Cera as Player X  in Mollys Game. Photo: Entertainment One/Michael Gibson Jeremy Strong as Dean Keith and Michael Cera as Player X in Mollys Game. Photo: Entertainment One/Michael Gibson

Being an Aaron Sorkin enterprise (he wrote it as well as it being his directorial debut) it uses up plenty of gas; everybody’s got plenty to say. It’s entertaining patter, with plenty of sharp funny lines.

A tale of Hollywood high rollers, millionaires and mafia types getting together to lose money around the poker table is always going to have that glamour and intrigue.

Sorkin tries to keep it snappy and punchy, but hand after hand are played and none of them delivers a knockout. It’s a film filled with unpleasant and unsympathetic people, which is fine, but the film never quite makes a convincing case for hearing their tale. It’s supposed to be a great tale of American decadence, but it seems small, insignificant: it is The Big Short, shorted.

The worst moment comes quite near the end when Costner, her psychologist father, returns. Many films have a Basil Exposition figure to do some ugly but necessary information feeding to the audience. Costner is a Basil Psychological Motivation figure blurting out why she did it and though Sorkin tries to be cute about it, the scene is hideous.

I don’t know what kind of Artistic Licence Sorkin has, but it must be one of the top ones because it seems to give him enormous leeway to make stuff up.

For example, there is an obnoxious film star, played by Michael Cera, who is referred to as Player X. At the core of the movie and its portrait of its central character is that Molly refuses to name names.

Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom and Idris Elba as Charlie Jaffey in Mollys Game. Photo: Entertainment One/Michael Gibson Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom and Idris Elba as Charlie Jaffey in Mollys Game. Photo: Entertainment One/Michael Gibson

This is presented as her redeeming feature. Yet the identity of Player X is Tobey Maguire, as is revealed in her book, Molly’s Game. In this film it seems like the names have been changed to invent a principle for its heroine to uphold.

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