Spoilers may need to fold.
Sometimes you just need a good film to get your spirits up. Okey, I’m spoiling my recommendation from the starting paragraph, but it’s for your benefit. It’s not really a story of triumph or overcoming the odds, but it is exciting as a view into the world of underground poker games. It includes some great performances from the main cast. It’s not groundbreaking or perfect, but it’s a well-made and solid movie overall. I’m not going to spoil it, so if you’re unsure you want to add this one to your watchlist, keep reading.
Molly’s Game (2017) was directed by Aaron Sorkin who also wrote it for the screen based on the original book by Molly Bloom. Like all biopics, this one takes a few liberties and avoids directly referencing certain people. In the film, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) is an olympic skier who suffered an accident and retired from the sport. After working as a bartender, she lands a job as an assistant to Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong) who runs an underground poker game. She will later end up running games herself. The film begins as she’s being arrested and struggles to obtain an attorney that will represent her. Her only hope is Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba).
I know this is a biopic. I’m not familiar with the real story, although I did look up some facts. However, my whole interest in this film was pure entertainment and that is what I got. The performances of Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba and Kevin Costner who plays Molly’s father, were solid and engaging. Chastain in particular plays Molly as a strong and dedicated overachiever that recognizes opportunity and masters her surrounding better and smarter than anybody else. She’s always the smartest mind in the room and her presence just outshines with determination.
One of the things that seems offsetting but completely believable is how much Molly Bloom (meaning the character as portrayed in the film, I am not making a judgement on the real person who I don’t know) is willing to play the odds of making money on the fringe world of underground poker but retains a sense of fairness throughout. The movie also gives us a look back at her life with her strict father Larry Bloom (Kevin Costner).
I feel obligated to let you know that the movie does not end with a winner-takes-all game of Texas Hold’Em. The game is the backdrop, a lot of plays are portrayed in the film, but it’s more about the world around it than the game itself. With high stakes and deep pockets, the games are shown in all their elegance, decadence, opulence and grime. The players are not people you should ever trust with a ten-foot pole and even the seemingly friendly Player X (Michael Cera) has a treacherous dark side that you don’t want to meet.
There’s a few flaws. I found it entertaining overall, there’s a bit of an ending with a little emotional cathartic moment that felt a little too conveniently coincidental and Hallmark (yeah I’m using it as an adjective). The finale is also a little melodramatic but I can see why the filmmakers thought the audience was owed that much. None of the two ruin the film, they’re just not as smart as the rest of it. To tell you the truth, the movie also has a lot of narration voiceover, but I didn’t mind it. Even the graphic explanation of the games felt like it added some extra character, but then again that might not work for everyone.
Highly recommended for pure entertainment and great performances. It doesn’t aim to teach you poker. It mostly avoids taking the moral high ground of trying to justify bad decisions – although that’s debatable in the finale. If you’re expecting Molly’s antagonists to finally get what’s coming to them, you will be sorely disappointed. It’s not about punishing the guilty, it is about making it out alive. The movie is not a courtroom drama by any stretch of the imagination. It does initially paint an alluring picture of the underground poker games and slowly reveals how such a world is always a slippery slope into addiction, criminality and drawing the attention of law enforcement. It’s a hell of a risky life, but it does make for an entertaining feature film.
That will do for now.