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Movie Review: Molly's Game

Molly's Game is a poker movie in the same way that The Social Network was a Facebook movie, it is so much more

Molly's Game
Directed by Aaron Sorkin
In Theatres

Watching Molly's Game is watching some of the greatest actors working today dig into some of the greatest writing of this young century. It's like watching the greatest musicians come together to play a piece by one of the great composers of ever. Watching Molly's Game is watching the best do what they're the best at. 

Aaron Sorkin's dialogue has a rhythm, it's like music. It flows and ebbs and, like Shakespeare, an actor needs to find the accents, the stresses, the beats. A good actor finds the patterns and the rhythm and brings life to what is on the page. A great actor is the one that somehow makes the Sorkin dialogue sound as natural as breathing. A bad actor is the one who tackles the Sorkin style and is always half a beat off, the one who sounds tone-deaf and lonely in a room filled with dancers. The words lose their poetic drive and sound like someone reading words off a page. Just watch the first season of The West Wing and spot the actors who try to wrestle with Mr. Sorkin's style of dialogue, the ones who cannot make it live. They are the actors who never return for season two, the characters who just vanish. Ah, Mandy, we hardly knew ye. 

Anyway, I'm not the first to compare the words of Aaron Sorkin to Shakespeare and I surely won't be the last. Shakespeare had his iambic pentameter, Mr. Sorkin has his music. 

Aaron Sorkin is the writer of a Facebook movie, of a baseball movie, of an Apple movie. And now he has written, and directed, a poker movie. And like The Social Network, like Moneyball, like Steve Jobs, Molly's Game is so, so, so much more than its elevator pitch. Molly's Game is a story of hubris and loss and determination and redemption and unlikely heroes and unlikely role models. It's the story of Molly Bloom, former member of the US ski team, a monster of the freestyle mogul, who ran high stake poker games for the richest and the most famous in Los Angeles and New York City. And Molly Bloom was arrested during an investigation of racketeering and Russian organized crime activities. 

Jessica Chastain as Ms Bloom and Idris Elba as the attorney Charlie are performances legends are built on. Ms Chastain brings a toughness and coldness to her Molly Bloom, an intensity to the dialogue. Her Molly Bloom is a survivor and a fighter and you never, ever count her as down. Mr. Elba's Charlie is incredibly confident and his world is shaken when he meets Molly Bloom and discovers she is so much more than a tabloid headline. Where she finds the beat and rhythm of Mr. Sorkin's writing and plays it on the line, a character just barely in control but trying to convey a false confidence that she is, Mr. Elba comes in and plays around that line, plays around the beat, a character that is confident and is in control but is learning new things about his assumptions. Where Ms Chastain brings a four-on-the-floor approach to the character and her words, Mr. Elba is all swing, laid back and letting the emotions tell him where to move next. If we really want to stretch the metaphor and snap it in my face, he's Louis to her Lil Hardin. And of all the performances in Molly's Game, I think that makes Chris O'Dowd the Jimmie Rodgers, ignoring structure completely. Take a listen to Blue Yodel #9 sometime if you want to see what I'm trying to get at here. 

Anyway. Is Molly's Game flawed? Sure. It's not perfect. It might be too long. But then again, I never once felt bored. And the story that needed to be told was told. Some of the ideas never quite come together. But then again, the ideas that do come together, they come together perfectly. At times the blocking feels like it belongs on a stage, that Mr. Sorkin in his directing debut doesn't know what to do with his characters except have them sit and talk. And sure, that might be a legitimate complaint. There are some very static scenes that made me wish for an old fashioned Sorkin walk-and-talk. I can't help but wonder what David Fincher or Martin Scorsese or Mr. Sorkin's West Wing partner Tommy Schlamme might have done with those static moments. But the performances in Molly's Game, every single one of them, are so great and amazing and wonderful that it kind of feels like nit-picking. 

A lot of people have complained over the years about how poker is portrayed in movies, be it Rounders or Casino Royale or whatever. Thing to ponder before anyone complains about the poker scenes in Molly's Game - most of the extras in the games are professional poker players. The story is that in order to keep him honest, Mr. Sorkin wanted actual poker players in the games so they could say what works and what doesn't. Anyway, the point of this is that some effort was taken to create authentic games, as authentic as they could be in an art form that is all facade. 

But, like I said above somewhere, Molly's Game is a poker movie in the same way that The Social Network was a Facebook movie or A Few Good Men is a USMC movie or Charlie Wilson's War is a mujahideen movie or Moneyball is a baseball movie. Molly's Game has a story to tell and it needs to be seen. It's entertaining and moving and, unlike most of the Oscar bait that is floating around right now, can make an audience laugh out loud. If I rated these things I'd give Molly's Game a three West Wing seasons out of four. 

And speaking of The West Wing, check out The West Wing Weekly, a podcast hosted about all things West Wing, it's near perfection for that West Wing fan.