Film - Molly's Game

Steve Taylor-Bryant upped the ante and watched Molly’s Game, now out on DVD...

“A survey was taken a few years ago that asked 300 professionals one question, "What's the worst thing that can happen in sports?" Some people answered losing a Game 7, and other people said getting swept in the 4. Some people said it was missing the world cup, and some Brazilians said it was losing to Argentina. Not just in the World Cup. Anytime, ever in any contest. But one person answered that the worst thing that can happen in sports is 4th place at the Olympics... To whoever answered that the worst thing that can happen in sports is getting 4th place in the Olympics: Seriously? Fuck you.”

I had a mixture of excitement and trepidation when the life story of Molly Bloom was announced as an Aaron Sorkin project. My admiration of Sorkin is as high as it can be, and I love a true-life story as much as anyone but, despite having read Molly Bloom’s book, I just didn’t see it making movie material. But then I always thought the same thing about the wonderful books of Michael Lewis and things like Moneyball and The Big Short did okay. The fact that Aaron Sorkin was going to make his directorial debut with the material was also interesting. Would his heavy dialogue and rapid narrative, that has often been captured only by some of cinema’s greatest directors, Fincher, Reiner et al, be too much for a relative amateur behind a camera? Would the look of a Hollywood Sorkin film come across as more of a television episode in the hands of someone not so experienced in the gloss of the big screen? I needn’t have worried about anything. Molly’s Game is a wonderful film.

Molly Bloom, when you read the book and do your own research, was a divisive character. Bloom is guilty of many things, but also a sort of hero to others and the film perfectly encapsulates the ‘something dishonourable done honourably’ feel I got from the book. As in the book, the film doesn’t name names, whilst a simple enough Google search will lead you to understand that Player X from the Los Angeles game was allegedly Toby McGuire, Sorkin and his cast follow the same ethics that Bloom had when she wrote her book. They haven’t hinted at who might be who, they haven’t cast lookalikes (quite honestly Michael Cera could only look like Michael Cera anyway and in no way resembles the alleged McGuire) and they haven’t done any of the tricks that a lesser filmmaker may have employed to help market a film that at first glance doesn’t seem marketable. This film epitomises Bloom herself, it does the right thing when doing the easy thing would have been more financially viable an option and I must commend Sorkin for that. Whilst I love his writing style and forgive him many things, he doesn’t always come across in real life as moralistic and the pressure on him to succeed straight out of the gate with his first picture must have been immense. I applaud the way the film is made, I applaud the way the story is told, but most of all I applaud the restraint shown so that the actual fascinating part of Molly Bloom’s life, her ethical spirit in the face of great personal hardship, is the shining light of the film.

The script is as you would expect from the pen of Aaron Sorkin. It is heavy in dialogue, it is incredibly well paced, and it is pure showmanship from the school of ‘why use one word when you can use twenty-seven.’ In short, I love it for its pure Sorkin-ness. Over my years of being a Sorkin fan though I have noticed that not all actors can carry off such dialogue but if anyone could take on a role like Molly Bloom and the pressures that come with a Sorkin script it is going to be Jessica Chastain. Whilst Chastain doesn’t look like Bloom and is older than the woman that started this whole story, there is something believable about her performance that leaves you in no doubt that she is for certain one of the world’s premier stars. Chastain handled the complexities of the script to perfection. She carried the entire story with her narration in a way I cannot imagine many of actors being able to do and, no matter who the other actor was in a scene with her, she had a chemistry that oozes brilliance. Whilst I always expect a stunning performance from Jessica Chastain, she still managed to surprise me by the end of the film by the ease with which she seemed to handle the story. Bloom’s book borders on gossip, without me being able to throw it in with a celebrity biography, but with Sorkin’s words and Chastain’s heavyweight performance it was elevated from something that would have made a tawdry television movie into something that can stand with the best biopics ever made. Whilst other cast members obviously help, I have sincere doubts that in the hands of someone other than Chastain, someone maybe nearer Bloom’s real age and perhaps lacking Chastain’s experience, that the film wouldn’t have been received anywhere near as well as it was (an Oscar nomination for Sorkin, Golden Globe nominations for both Sorkin and Chastain).

Whilst I can wax lyrically about Sorkin and Chastain all day, I think for me the biggest surprise was Idris Elba. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Elba but in all his best portrayals on big or small screen he comes across best when he’s not speaking, when he is brooding with intensity in a look or a stare. Commendable skills for sure, but the strong silent type with a word heavy screenplay from Aaron Sorkin and an American accent to nail? I had my doubts but my word he was good. Yes, he had the intensity that he always carries well and that the role required, but he also had the kind of skillset an actor needs to go from pure silence and acting with a facial expression into a full-blown Sorkin speech, and Elba hit every mark for me. Add in the experienced Kevin Costner, who was funnier than I remember him being for a long time, and you have yourselves one of the best casts ever assembled for a story. This ensemble injected humour, tension and gravitas to a book that probably didn’t deserve that much work put into it, and they delivered a lesson in storytelling. Sorkin pulled off another masterpiece of a script as, to be fair, I expected him to but I will have to judge his directorial skills at another time, when he is not directing his own words. This time, his camera work, his editing, his feel through the lens were all perfect for a script that had characters talking in that almost melodic way that Sorkin writes, so the direction of the film is exactly the way I would have expected any director to approach an Aaron Sorkin screenplay, and I suppose for that you have to say he did a great job. The difference between Sorkin the director and his comparable counterparts is that you can tell Fincher is good from his direction of multiple stories and multiple screenwriters, so I think it would only be fair to judge Sorkin as a filmmaker once I have experienced what he can accomplish behind the camera with a script that isn’t his to visualise.

Molly’s Game won’t be for everyone. It may not even be for all Aaron Sorkin fans, but Molly’s Game is a fascinating story told better than the original storyteller told it, with some wonderfully surprising performances and with a heavyweight of Hollywood leading the way in knockout performances. I can only hope as a fan of cinema that Jessica Chastain and Aaron Sorkin work together again one day.

Follow Steve on Twitter @STBwrites

Images - IMDb

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