I am not usually a fan of ‘based-on-a-true-story’ Oscar-y type movies, but I have to say – I really enjoyed this one. Molly’s Game is based on a book of the same name, which is an auto-biography by Molly Bloom. The sub-title of the book is “The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World.” Molly herself talked Aaron Sorkin into doing the movie, and after meeting her, he agreed to not only write the movie, but also direct it. She also requested Jessica Chastain to play her, and once Chastain agreed, the movie started falling into place.
The story starts in the early 2002, Molly was ranked the number three female Moguls skier in the United States, and was on her way to qualifying for the Olympics that year in Salt Lake City. Her father was a psychology professor and her mother was her coach. Molly was ready, but had a freak accident on the slopes, resulting in a horrific crash that complicated results of a surgery she had already had on her spine. It shifted her plan for her life, which had been Olympics, then law school – so, in order to refresh herself before starting law school, she headed out to Los Angeles for some sun.
While out in L.A., her father refused to help her financially, so she started working as an assistant to a real estate agent who eventually asked her to help out with his weekly poker game. Molly researched everything having to do with the game, and eventually worked up to ‘running’ the game. When the real estate guy inevitably fired her, she was ready – and took his list of rich and famous friends to host a game in a hotel in L.A. There, “player X” an unnamed movie star (rumor has it the character is meant to be Tobey Maguire), assists her by bringing in wealthier people for him to play with and win from. When the bottom falls out, he pulls the game away from her, and she moves to New York to start again.
When Molly was running games in Los Angeles, she was very careful to never break the law, she paid taxes on the tips she received for running the games, so stayed very legal. Once she moved to New York - that changed. She started taking a ‘rake’, which seems to be a percentage of the pot in order to cover any losses by big players. She started taking drugs to stay up all night, and eventually got in with the Russian mob, as they started attending her games, without her knowledge.
She ends up going to a lawyer to get some assistance after the FBI raids one her games and arrests most of her employees. He works through her story and in spite of himself, ends up on her side. He encourages her to take a deal to lessen what could be her sentence by ‘selling out’ the big names that played at her games, but she refuses, not wanting to compromise their privacy.
As with any Aaron Sorkin written movie, the dialogue is fast paced, witty, and entertaining. The movie is mostly people standing around and talking about poker, which is not something I find that interesting, but the way it is written and shot really draw you in to the story. Like the lawyer, you find yourself on Molly’s side, even if you originally did not intend to be. The cast shines because the writing allows them to do so:
- Jessica Chastain really carries the movie as Molly. Even at the moments when Molly is at her most arrogant and unlikable, Chastain finds a way to keep her relatable. It really is an amazing performance.
- Idris Elba plays the lawyer, Charlie Jaffey, and from what I understand about the original meetings between Bloom and Sorkin, his character asks a lot of the same questions of Chastain’s character that Sorkin asked the real Bloom. Elba is quietly confident – the accent is a little curious, but his determination to do the right thing for his client is impressive.
- Kevin Costner was the real surprise for me. He seems to just be getting better. As Molly’s father, Larry, he is very hard and judgemental, and has very little screen time. He shows up just when she is at her lowest, and in about a ten minute scene where he gives her ‘three years of therapy in three minutes’ brought me to tears.
- Michael Cera plays Player X, and if it was Tobey Maguire in real life – you can absolutely believe it from his performance. Smarmy and superior, he’s fine when he’s on Molly’s side, but the instant he turns on her, he completely trashes her.
- Chris O’Dowd plays Douglas Downey, a regular at Molly’s New York game who helps her unknowingly get involved with the Russian mafia, and then is the one who gets her raided by the FBI.
- Jeremy Strong plays Dean Keith, who seems to be a fictionalized version of the real-life Darin Feinstein, a co-owner of the Viper Room where Tobey Maguire first started the poker games. He’s just terrible, treating Molly as useless and only there to do what he wants.
- Graham Greene plays Judge Foxman who gets Molly’s case and actually has one of the most interesting bits in the movie, with very little screen time.
Overall, the movie was really interesting and really well-crafted. The performances were wonderful, and I am eager to see if it wins anything! Definitely check it out – you don’t necessarily have to see it in a theater, but I think you’ll find it interesting.
7 out of 10 – Gained points for Idris Elba, and for Kevin Costner being a great actor?!?
Bonus - cast interviews!