Aaron Sorkin is one of a kind. But in “Molly’s Game,” he and Jessica Chastain make a winning pair.
He’s always been known for clever stories about verbal, high-achieving iconoclasts. She’s recently made a string of tough pictures about fierce, feminist women.
Still, putting them together for a movie about a secret, high-stakes poker game might have seemed like a gamble.
It turned out to be a safe bet.
Because this is a based-on-fact story about a singular woman who smartly turned men’s lust and greed against them.
Working on her own, Molly Bloom made millions by simply providing gamblers with a plush hotel suite, pretty dealers and no-limit stakes. And taking generous tips that added up to millions.
Until she took a little more than that, and ended up arrested.
The smartest-person-in-the-room tale plays to Sorkin’s strengths as a writer, while the movie gives him a chance to show off his surprisingly visual style as a director.
As Chastain’s Molly narrates her own wild history, Sorkin cuts in flashbacks, graphics, little visual comments. It’s “The Big Short” for card sharps, almost making you think you’re ready to sit down with these characters. (Guess what? You’re not.)
Flashing a smile and a full house of cleavage, Molly charmed these guys into letting down their guards.
But Molly was, because she knew while she couldn’t beat them at their own game, she could win at hers. Flashing a smile and a full house of cleavage, Molly charmed these guys into letting down their guards.
And opening up their wallets.
Chastain is terrific, and terrifically different. She’s played smart women before, but rarely wildly sexy ones. Here she’s got brains and beauty, and the cool cleverness to use both, on her terms.
She draws some interesting people into her orbit, too. One of them is Michael Cera’s “Player X,” a snotty young movie star whose favorite role is humiliating everyone else at the table. (Who’s he based on? Sorry, the movie keeps those cards close to its vest.)
And even better is Idris Elba as Molly’s defense attorney, a lawyer called upon to defend a sarcastic, self-destructive and completely penniless client. (That’s OK. He gets paid by being given a big, juicy Sorkin monologue.)
Compared to a really great poker game, sometimes “Molly’s” comes up a little short. It definitely keeps you too long at the table. And there are times — like every Sorkin script — where it won’t stop talking. Really, buddy, shut up and deal.
But when the chips are down, its stars come through. And in the end, we all walk away winners.