At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Molly’s Game “2017”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Molly’s Game “2017”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Crime Docudrama/Stars: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, J. C. MacKenzie, Brian d’Arcy James, Bill Camp, Graham Greene, Justin Kirk, Angela Gots, Natalie Krill, Joe Keery, Michael Kostroff, Claire Rankin, Jon Bass, Samantha Isler, Kjartan Hewitt, Jacob Blair, Dan Lett, Rachel Skarsten, Dov Tiefenbach, David Reale, Jake Goldsbie, Chris Owens, Thomas Hauff, Ari Cohen/Runtime: 141 minutes

I think it’s safe to say that if you were to make a list of some of the more noteworthy writers operating in the land of movie magic today then one name that would, without question, have to be on that list would be Aaron Sorkin. Indeed here is a man who, among his many accomplishments, is not only a talented playwright (1988’s Hidden in this Picture, 2007’s The Farnsworth Invention), but also a brilliant TV and film scribe as well having written such indelible works as TV’s The West Wing and The Newsroom and the scripts for such slices of cinema as 1995’s The American President, 1992’s A Few Good Men (which he adapted from his own 1989 play of the same name), 2011’s Moneyball, and 2010’s The Social Network to name but a few of the examples on this talent’s distinct creative resume. If you had told me though that one day this man would decide to take a gamble and actually direct a film in addition to write the script for it, I honestly do not know if I would have seen that coming. Not because I wouldn’t have believed it to be possible mind you, but because the man seemed so content with writing the movies I just don’t know if a film would come along that would make him want to make that kind of professional transition. Imagine my surprise then, in the long-ago year of 2017, to see that he was able to do just that with the slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today which takes the shape and form of a cinematic adaptation of a true story known as Molly’s Game. Even more incredible than the fact that Aaron Sorkin was actually directing a film at last however for this critic was the fact that, upon watching the finished product, it actually turned out to be one that, whilst by no stretch of the imagination, was still really freaking good all the same. Indeed it might have its fair share of issues, but with the aid of potent work behind the camera and downright engaging work in front of the camera by an truly impeccable cast of players Molly’s Game is one cinematic card game that I promise you is most assuredly worthy of your time and (just as importantly) your money should you give it the chance to work its magic on you.

The plot is as follows: An adaptation of the 2014 memoir of the same name by a woman named (get this) Molly Bloom, Molly’s Game gets underway by first wryly making it clear to us that, main character’s name aside, the majority of everyone else involved in this story has had their names changed for reasons that will very much become obvious as the story goes along. From there, the film then takes us back in time to the long-ago year of 2002 where we see as our main character, at the time an aspiring Olympic skier, has her hopes and dreams tragically dashed as a result of a freak injury during a trial run. From there though, the film then immediately proceeds to jump ahead as we witness our intrepid heroine is arrested by no less than the FBI for reasons that involve no less a group than the Russian mafia. Now I know what you’re thinking dear reader: going from aspiring Olympian to alleged criminal with gangster ties is quite the transition to say the least so what the heck happened between point A and point B on the timeline of this person’s life to make this possible?! Fortunately, we see that the film (through a series of conversations Molly has with an attorney in the form of an upstanding guy by the name of Charlie Jaffey whom she would like to hire to defend her) proceeds to swiftly begin filling in those blanks for us. As a result, we see that, in the time following her tragic fall from Olympic grace, Molly decides to make her way to L.A. where, whilst working a series of odd jobs, she meets a guy by the name of Dean. A guy who, among other noteworthy attributes worth keeping in mind about him, is not only a pretentious yet unproductive real estate developer, but also the runner of an under-the-radar poker game that a lot of L.A.’s more well-to-do individuals take part in week after week out. We soon see that, despite her lack of poker know-how, it isn’t long before Molly really starts to pick up on the ins and outs of the game extremely well to the point that starts making some pretty good money. A skill that soon comes in handy incidentally when Dean lets her go after enviously seeing how successful she is getting. This is because, upon being fired, Molly makes the choice to run her own game. First in L.A. and then, following certain events that I shan’t spoil for you here, in no less a locale than New York City. Yet as Molly builds her own little empire and the money starts rolling in, the question still remains: where exactly did Molly go wrong in all of this and, with the threat of serious prison time looming, can still find one last ace in the deck to ensure her freedom or is she about to have to fold yet again? That I will leave for you to discover dear reader….

Now right off, it should be said that the work done behind the camera on this particular cinematic outing is incredibly well-done all things considered. Naturally, this starts with the work done at the helm and on the page by helmer/scribe Aaron Sorkin and in both roles he does do a pretty darn good job. Indeed in regard to his work in the former job, we see that Sorkin does mange to actually show some genuine skill as a director in his (astonishing as it may be) directorial debut. Yes there are some moments where he does stumble a little bit, but by and large the man does a terrific job at ensuring that the story being told is told in as on-point of a manner as he possibly can. As for his work on the latter, we see that (to no surprise) Sorkin’s skill with language truly is alive and well as it was when he penned The West Wing, The Newsroom, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, and A Few Good Men to name but a few examples. In other words dear reader: if you are someone who delights in seeing jaw-droppingly brilliant individuals take part in rapid fire, almost mile-a-minute dialogue with one another then from a cinematic standpoint this is definitely going to be a version of Heaven for you. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in a top-tier musical accompaniment from Daniel Pemberton and truly dazzling work from the costume and cinematography departments at bringing both the fashion and various locales be they the backrooms of the lively yet with a hint of shifty Cobra Lounge or a luxurious suite at the Plaza in NYC vividly to life it’s clear that, by and large, this is a solidly made film. I add that last part dear reader because, whilst incredibly solid, the work done behind the camera on this particular cinematic outing is by no means a perfectly dealt hand by any means either. Indeed this slice of cinema’s narrative structure, which zips us as movie goers back and forth between two distinct periods in time (complete with countless flashbacks for “moral support”) does have more than its fair share of moments that drag on more than they really ought to. On top of that, the structure is also guilty of ensuring that there really is suspense to be found in regard to the past narrative as to how exactly everything is going to play out or how we, or Molly for that matter, will get there since it’s laid out pretty well for us right at the beginning. We also see that a vital dialogue between two characters late in the film, whilst extremely well-acted and giving just the right degree of catharsis for good measure, does give off the vibe of being too effortless in how it handles a specific conflict. That and, for the times this slice of cinema drags on, there are also moments where Sorkin speeds by certain things so fast that we aren’t really given the chance to process them. Even with those detriments in mind however, there is no denying that the rest of the work behind the camera is so skillfully done and the energy crackling through the film so lively and vibrant that it is extremely hard to not get hooked on this film overall and just let it take you on the voyage that it is wanting you to take you on.

Of course, the other big ace up this particular slice of cinema’s sleeve that enables it to work on the level that it does would without question have to come in the form of the stacked deck of talent that has been assembled in front of the camera. This without a doubt starts with Jessica Chastain as the titular heroine and she is amazing. Not just in the moments where we see her iron-clad resolve, quick-wit, or conniving style come to play, but also in the moments where she does let the walls surrounding her on the inside come down a bit and we see the vulnerability that has always been there yet wasn’t exactly visible to either us or the other characters. Indeed it’s a very intriguing character and, in the hands of a phenomenal actress like Chastain, someone definitely worth rooting for. Working in synch with the top-tier performance given by Chastain is the one given by Idris Elba in the role of Charlie Jaffey. Indeed, as portrayed here by Elba, Jaffey might definitely be the kind of lawyer that one in the vein of Saul Goodman might scoff at due to being too much of a moralist. Even so however, there is no denying that not only is Elba capable of delivering Sorkin’s trademark rapid-fire dialogue with a finesse and style, but he also has a back and forth with Chastain in this that is spot-on. Yes more often than not, the two are butting heads, but the film also make sure to give us a fair amount of low-key moments where we get to see the two share surprising degrees of affability and wittiness in equal measure. Besides the work done by Chastain and Elba, this slice of cinema also features a winning performance from the always engaging Kevin Costner as Molly’s dear ol’ dad Larry Bloom. Indeed it might not be the biggest part in the film by any stretch, but even so there is no denying that Costner does a wonderful job at playing someone who starts out being an outright hardnose if not a bit of a jerk only to eventually show who he is in a scene with Chastain late in the movie that ranks among the more emotionally potent in the film. Lastly, I would be completely amiss if I didn’t take some time in this section to praise the work done by none other than Michael Cera in the role of the mysterious Player X (who I know is supposed to be a composite of several different real-life individuals, but I would not be surprised if most of his character is inspired by OG live-action Spider-Man himself Tobey Maguire because…if you know, you know is all I’m saying). At any rate, if all you’ve seen of Cera and his work as a performer is his phenomenal role in 2007’s Superbad or in 2009’s Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist then get ready because you are in for a delightful surprise here. I say that because, as Player X, Cera does a wonderful job at playing this confident yet sleazy and fairly despicable individual who might be a talented poker player, but is from a moral perspective the person who you might first think of when it comes to the word “degenerate”. Indeed it might be a vast 180 from his usual schtick, but Cera manages to make it work and then some. Suffice it to say that when you also incorporate efforts from such talents as Bill Camp, Joe Kerry (Steve from Stranger Things!), Jon Bass, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, J.C. MacKenzie, the always enjoyable Graham Greene, and Brian d’Arcy James among others it’s clear that this slice of cinema might have a few hiccups here and there, but the work done by this group is certainly no bluff by any stretch of the imagination.

All in all and at the end of the day is Molly’s Game a perfect cinematic hand in the game of movie poker? Sadly no though by no means not for lack of effort. At the same time though, is this the worst cinematic effort since Chastain made X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Elba was a part of the 2019 Cats movie adaptation, or Costner thought Waterworld was a wise career move? Honestly no though in all fairness I do have a bit of fondness for the last entry I mentioned so I really shouldn’t inspire too much rancor and/or hostility towards it. All sarcastic observations aside I must admit that while I really did enjoy this slice of cinema dear reader, I can definitely see how it won’t by any stretch of the imagination be every single movie lover out there’s particular cup of tea as it were. Key among the reasons for why this is the case would have to be not only film helmer/scribe’s Aaron Sorkin’s trademark way with dialogue, but also the fact that for as quick of a tempo as this slice of cinema seems to have going for it there are moments where things do drag a bit more than they really ought to be. Even with those detriments in mind however, there is no denying that the work done behind the camera is absolutely electric in every way possible from the extremely well-penned script (though I mean c’mon it IS Sorkin we are talking about here) all the way to the downright dazzling work done by the cinematography and costume departments respectively. As for the work done in front of the camera, it too proves to be just as engaging as its behind-the-scenes counterparts as we as movie goers get to excitedly witness such talents as Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, and Michael Cera among others not only make the most of their characters, but bring nothing less than their respective A-games to this cinematic sandbox that they all look completely thrilled that they are getting a chance to play in no matter how big or small their overall amount of screentime in the grand scheme of things turns out to be. Suffice it to say then that whilst Molly’s Game might not be, to utilize a little poker terminology, a Royal Flush by any stretch of the imagination, I also have no qualms at saying that should this slice of cinema be up your alley this is most assuredly one Four of a Kind or Straight Flush that you definitely should try and seek out for your own cinematic deck. Make of that therefore what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Molly’s Game “2017” a solid 4 out of 5.