Acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is in the director's chair for 'Molly's Game'

Idris Elba as Molly Bloom's lawyer, Charlie Jaffey, is a highlight of the film. At 140 minutes, “Molly’s Game” is a long sit, made to seem even longer because of Sorkin’s flashback structure.

Michael Gibson/STXFilms/AP
Idris Elba (r.) and Jessica Chastain star in 'Molly's Game.'

“Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, is – surprise! – chockablock with dialogue. You can practically close your eyes and still get the gist of the movie. Not that you would necessarily want to close your eyes: the actors, including Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, are a showy bunch.  

Chastain’s Molly Bloom, as Bloom herself detailed in her bestselling autobiography, had ambitions to become an Olympic skier before injuries curtailed her career. For a while, she was an assistant to a piggish Los Angeles real estate mogul and eventually ended up running unlicensed high-stakes poker games in New York and L.A. Eventually the FBI, suspecting she had links to the Russian mafia, caught up with her.

At 140 minutes, “Molly’s Game” is a long sit, made to seem even longer because of Sorkin’s herky-jerky flashback structure and his penchant for repeating smartypants material over and over again. Molly has most of the film’s most ringing monologues, and Chastain delivers them with the proper high-octane oomph, but too much of this film assumes that we care as much about the finaglings and underhandedness of the superrich as Sorkin does. Well, I don’t care as much, or at least Sorkin hasn’t made me want to. (I felt the same way about “The Big Short,” which “Molly’s Game” resembles.)

Sorkin is caught up in the same trap that other filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese with “The Wolf of Wall Street,” have fallen into: He is attempting a grand-scale indictment of the venal money culture but he is too enamored of the venal rich to make the indictment stick. The parade of high-rollers (including a pungent cameo by Michael Cera as “Player X”) is far more interesting than the do-gooders who occasionally pop up to shame Molly. 

As was also true in such Sorkin-scripted films as “The Social Network” and “Steve Jobs,” he goes in for some heavy-duty Freudian character analysis. In “The Social Network,” it all comes down in the end to Mark Zuckerberg wanting to impress the girlfriend who jilted him. In “Steve Jobs,” the corporate genius is a world-class narcissist and commitmentphobe. In “Molly’s Game,” Molly gets a psychological read-out from none other than her psychiatrist father, played with hardheaded assurance by Kevin Costner, who has a big scene in which he gives her, in his words, “three years of therapy in three minutes.” (It was more than three minutes.) 

All of this jawboning and by-the-numbers psychologizing is made somewhat tolerable because of Elba, who plays Molly’s lawyer, Charlie Jaffey. Elba is one of those actors who radiates his own force field even if he’s sitting still, or just tying his shoe. His no-nonsense performance helps to eradicate some of Sorkin’s nonsense.

Chastain’s performance is a bit more problematic. She’s certainly a powerhouse, but she makes Molly so flinty and defiant that, after a while, a sameness sets into the portrayal. Chastain has a tendency to turn herself into a hard-shelled avenger, as in “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Miss Sloane,” and this performance is in line with those. It should not be necessary, in playing unyielding characters, to clamp down so hard on emotional nuance. 

Most movies these days (as opposed to the best television shows) are so laden with substandard dialogue that it might seem peevish to complain about “Molly’s Game,” which revels in high-style jabbering. But Sorkin doesn’t pull off what, say, Paddy Chayefsky, in his scripts for such films as “Network” and “The Hospital,” achieved. He doesn’t create a world in which all those monologues and contretemps really sing. Most of the arias in “Molly’s Game” don’t achieve liftoff, and so neither does the movie. Grade: C+ (Rated R for language, drug content, and some violence.)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is in the director's chair for 'Molly's Game'
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Movies/2018/0112/Acclaimed-screenwriter-Aaron-Sorkin-is-in-the-director-s-chair-for-Molly-s-Game
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe