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With: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Michael Cera, Kevin Costner, Jeremy Strong, Chris O'Dowd, J.C. MacKenzie, Brian d'Arcy James, Bill Camp, Graham Greene, Justin Kirk, Angela Gots, Natalie Krill, Stephanie Herfield, Madison McKinley
Written by: Aaron Sorkin, based on a book by Molly Bloom
Directed by: Aaron Sorkin
MPAA Rating: R for language, drug content and some violence
Running Time: 140
Date: 01/05/2018
IMDB

Molly's Game (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Gambling in Spades

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In this directorial debut by verbose, mile-a-minute screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, he opts to get out of his own way and stick to the script. The result isn't perfect, but it's energetic and entertaining.

In Molly's Game, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) tries to employ a lawyer, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) to defend her against a lawsuit by the U.S. government. She tells her story. Raised by a strict psychologist (Kevin Costner), she was once a promising Olympic skier, her career derailed by a freak accident. She gets a job working for a sleazy gambling promoter, helping to run high-stakes backroom poker games, the kind that attract movie stars, like "Player X" (Michael Cera).

She soon learns how the games work, taking home huge tips. When her boss threatens to take away her salary, she steals his contact list and starts her own game. Things fall apart when Russian mobsters become involved in the game, and Molly's drug use spins out of control. She is temporarily saved by the option to write a book about her experiences, but now she needs even bigger help.

Chastain is a strong reason for the movie's effectiveness; she plays yet another powerful character unafraid to stand up to the men around her, and making it look good. She attacks Sorkin's dialogue with a frenzy and owns it. Molly's Game jumps around in time with lots of narration and flashbacks, and even continues on from where the non-fiction book by the real Molly Bloom left off. It goes on at a great rate for 140 whole minutes and never seems to flag.

Yet, along the way, it's possible to question just whether Molly deserves this kind of movie. After all, she did do the things she's accused of doing, even if she claims she didn't know the Russians had become involved. Why should we care? Even her lawyer is reluctant to take her case, and he has every reason in the world to be.

But, as this is a movie about poker, Sorkin deals out scenes like a pro, zippily flinging cards, and holding the important ones until he really needs them. His winning hand is the realization that this has been a father-daughter story all along, and that is the thing that matters.

Universal's Blu-ray release is nothing special, but it's perfectly adequate; the video quality appears a bit flat, more reflecting a not-particularly-visual movie, and the audio is fine. The only extra is a very short, studio-produced featurette, loaded with clips and talking heads. Happily, the set also includes a bonus DVD and a digital copy.

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