Chastain and Sorkin make this true crime tale soar

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Molly’s Game
Opens Friday 5
3.5 out of 5

Jessica Chastain gets taken for granted a lot. Chastain does extraordinary work but hardly anybody notices. Her genius lies in her ability to render unique-yet- strong female characters whenever required, never mind if the genre is horror (Crimson Peak), historical drama (The Zookeeper’s Wife) or a modern thriller (Miss Sloane).

In Molly’s Game, Chastain has a specific challenge: she needs to be sexy (it’s a major plot point that’s justified by the story) yet let her intelligence overpower her looks. She succeeds spectacularly.

Inspired by the real-life story of Molly Bloom — host of high stakes poker games frequented the rich and famous — Molly’s Game opens with the title character down in the dumps: she’s nearly broke, she’s being investigated by the FBI and the Russian mob has her in the crosshairs.

Through conversations with her lawyer (Idris Elba), we learn how an overachieving, type-A student became the biggest name in underground poker, and not long after, the face of a mob crackdown. A bit of a rebel, Molly broke with her family’s academic inclinations to become a cocktail waitress in Los Angeles, where she was soon recruited to cater the weekly card games in the Viper Room’s basement.

Molly soon realizes she has the brains to put together her own room and keep the bulk of the profits. But two elements blindsided the entrepreneur: the soul-sucking nature of gambling and the various players’ untrustworthiness.

Molly’s Game is Aaron Sorkin’s first outing as a director. Better known for writing The Social Network, Steve Jobs and A Few Good Men (not to mention The West Wing), Sorkin indulges his less cinematic instincts: lengthy monologues, thick dialogue and complicated characters. If Sorkin is your jam, you should love Molly’s Game. The characters are richly outlined and their complexity makes them fascinating. The plot is simultaneously thin and dense (much as the real case) but that doesn’t matter much. The real mystery here is what makes Molly tick, and the reveal is rewarding.

Outside Chastain at the top of her game and Sorkin doing his thing, there are a number of other details to enjoy: Michael Cera as Player X — a composite character of Hollywood stars that gave Molly her big break and then sandbagged her — hits the sweet spot between impishness and menace. Kevin Costner’s gravitas is put to good use as a helicopter parent whose zeal backfires spectacularly.

At times you can tell Sorkin is a first-time director (the actors are left to police themselves), but at least he knows how to make walking and talking entertaining.

Still wondering who Player X is (mostly) based on? Here’s a clue: it rhymes with Obie Aguire. Was Sam Raimi trying to tell us something with evil Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3?