Directed by Aaron Sorkin, who penned A Few God Men and brought television such as The West Wing and movies such as The Social Network to life, Molly's Game tells the story of ‘Poker Princess’ Molly Bloom, an astute academic with a background in Olympic Skiing. Bloom ran the most famous poker games in both New York and Los Angeles for 10 years before finally being arrested in 2013 by the FBI on illegal gambling charges.
The story begins with her background in sports, where her father’s oppressive attitude pushed her from a young age to excel in skiing. She reached the peak of the Olympics, but due to a devastating injury during a trial run, was forced out of the sport. Bloom ended up taking a break from her law studies, where she began working for ‘Dean Keith’, a real estate entrepreneur, and co-owner of the Hollywood nightclub referred to as ‘The Cobra Lounge’. He hired Bloom as his executive assistant, and that is how she was introduced to poker. Little did she know, that she’d soon be running the biggest cash games in Los Angeles and New York City.
California heart-throb Jessica Chastain plays the lead role of Molly Bloom in the film, from both a narrative and first-person viewpoint. She wonderfully captures the character of Bloom, a determined woman with a ‘never-say-die’ attitude, conquering the world of underground poker.
Bloom’s lawyer is portrayed as ‘Charlie Jaffey’ in the film, and though we know he was not based on her actual lawyer, Elba delivers a stunning performance in his defence of Bloom’s case. His character's speech in the closing stages of the film really hits home.
Aside from the main characters briefly summed-up above, Michael Cera stars as ‘Player X’ shying away from his usual role in films as the timid high-school kid, to take on the arrogant persona of the poker savvy movie star. Jeremy Strong plays the role of obnoxious boss Dean Keith, and through his aggressive attitude towards her, ultimately pushes Bloom to the scene where she’d make her millions. Chris O’Dowd plays the hopeless drunk Douglas Downey, who essentially introduces Bloom to the Russian mafia by bringing them to the game.
Poker fans will be relieved to hear that the poker scenes, for the most part, are put together well. There are big pots, bad beats and the ever-welcome scene of the underdog bluffing the table professional. But this is not a typical ‘poker’ film. It’s purely about Molly’s Game and her life either side of it, so the poker aspect is portrayed through her eyes as she sees it.
Nevertheless, the director must ensure that the audience can follow what’s going on, so as expected, there was plenty of narrative from Chastain explaining the commonly used words in poker to keep people interested.
At one point, whilst explaining a huge bluff from ‘Player X’, it is declared that his opponent was holding the nuts and mathematically could not be beaten. As we see the opponent fold his hand, I think we can be pretty certain that he wasn’t holding the nuts, so maybe a slight slip up there but we can look past that.
Our favourite hand in the film was definitely between the ‘fish’ aptly named Bad Brad, and the ‘shark’ Harlen Eustice. Brad moves all-in on the river on a complete bluff, making Eustice lay down a full-house and ultimately sending him on volcanic tilt when he is shown the bluff. A side story commences whereby Eustice, who had earlier been explaining how he was going to take his wife out for a surprise birthday treat, ends up chasing his losses and we all know where that gets you.
Molly's Game does a good job with the poker hands, with just enough action at the felt but not so much as to get in the way of the storyline or lengthen the film too much.
Aside from a few inconsistencies with the true story (and the book), the film seems to have stayed as close as possible to the real events. Of course, with it being a film, there are a few farfetched situations as expected. For instance, how Bloom’s father just so happens to be standing at a skating rink in the middle of New York to stumble upon his daughter whom he hasn’t seen for years is a stretch. But, like the audience to the film itself, they had to meet up somehow.
All-in-all, Molly's Game is definitely worth a watch for all audiences, not just those interested in poker. Chastain’s narrative keeps the film flowing well in between the ‘action’ scenes, and she also delivers a captivating performance in building rapport with the viewers. Idris Elba produced a knockout display with one of the best closing speeches we’ve ever seen on screen and overall, we think this poker movie is one worth pushing your chips over the line for.
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