The extent to which you’ll enjoy Molly’s Game, the directorial debut of screenwriting icon Aaron Sorkin, may largely depend on your previous response to Sorkin’s movies. The West Wing creator’s rapidfire dialogue and single-minded characters trying to outsmart one another have made him one of the most distinct voices in Hollywood, and Molly’s Game is Sorkin squared, amplifying himself with his first venture behind the camera. If, like me, you find The Social Network, Moneyball and Steve Jobs highly engaging you’ll like this: if you find his status obsessed characters and theatrical dialogue distances you, I cannot see this being the movie to change your mind, as the writer takes inspiration from The Big Short and The Wolf of Wall Street to craft an eclectic, energetic film that assumes you’re down for the adventure.
Aside from testing himself as a director, Molly’s Game also stars Sorkin’s first female protagonist. Our narrator is the titular Molly, who’s high stakes games of poker with movie stars within luxurious man caves earn her a fortune. Various men on both sides of the law attempt to take her down, through reducing her in their head to their love interest by or to just a sex object (who could clearly only be successful if she was using her sexuality), or by downright stating that Molly is just doing all this to get back at them. In this extent, it could be argued that despite starring a woman, Molly’s Game is still largely defined by men, increasingly trying to fit her into a box or a bed or a cell. Yet perhaps that’s the point: here’s a woman who was a stroke of bad luck away from being an Olympian, who made millions based on little but her own intellect, who stands firm against the easier notion of selling out information that will hurt her former clients, and yet all the men around her are trying to figure her out rather than respect that.
Sorkin’s dialogue is a big test for actors: Chastain makes it her own. Whether Chastain’s roles have come from her reputation or her reputation has defined her roles is curious, but she’s very Chastain here: interested in justice, smarter than you, intent on big things, sexy but not defined by it – a capable woman, who refuses to let you define her by either part of that sentence. Chastain’s echoing of her former roles is a good way to sell the film: good writers and good actors (including Idris Elba, who’s charming as hell as Chastain’s lawyer, and Michael Cera, who’s believably unsettling as the vindictive Player X) reminding you they’re amongst the best in their field.
Be it the creation of Facebook, the development of Apple and now poker games with movie stars, Sorkin has specialised in delving into environments that fascinate with characters to which we try to relate. Molly’s Game doesn’t necessarily show Sorkin has the same natural ability of directing that he brings to the page – it’s a little overlong, some of the early narration is a bit too erratic, Kevin Costner’s big moment towards the end feels a little on-the-nose – yet these are small complaints when there’s so much good here. Any good movie is a triumph, and this is a very good movie, with a leading performance that leaps from the screen and dares you to underestimate it. An easy recommendation.