If you are aware of the name Aaron Sorkin you will most likely know him from his work on The West Wing or perhaps for having written The Social Network. Although he is known for his fast talking characters, the thing that really stands out with me when it comes to Sorkin’s writing is how morality plays a big part in all his characters lives. I appreciated this and it usually made for some fascinating characters that try desperately to do good but sometimes fail. This pattern worked for Sorkin, until now. Molly Bloom, despite her moralistic ravings isn’t someone to look up to, someone to strive to be and while Sorkin would have you believe this is a story worth telling, it’s just an exercise in vanity wrapped up as serious drama.
Molly’s Game tells the story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), an Olympic ski jumper who, after a disastrous fall retires to go to law school but before she does takes a year off to head to LA and enjoy herself. This leads her to a world of gambling, drinking and drugs that changes her life forever. Along the way she unintentionally gets involved with the Russian mob and is forced to defend herself in court with the help of her lawyer Charles Jaffey (Idris Elba)
Now some might say I’m being too harsh on Molly, a power driven intelligent woman who is just doing what most men do to get ahead. That isn’t the problem, her business savvy and intelligence actually make her at the least understandable and if you had to stand her up against the Madoff’s of this world she would smell like roses in comparison because people gave her her money. The problem with Molly is that Sorkin makes her too cool. His usual brisk form of dialogue doesn’t work here, the complexities of the story require some finesse and the character of Molly suffers because never for a moment does the film really pause to see what she thinks.
Despite some fun little moments where she gets the upper hand over people or some interestingly filmed card games, this is empty storytelling as never for a moment does the film care enough about its characters, its always about the sensational story and it is sensational. Chastain plays Molly with aplomb and does her best to add colour and personality to Bloom but never for a moment does the script rise above its cool factor. Most of the time Chastain plays second fiddle to other characters in the scene while her voice over is required to add life to often extremely dry poker games. This is her world but she doesn’t seem to care about it, let alone herself.
In the end the film relies on its final ten minutes to finally turn Molly Bloom into a fully fledged human being. Thanks to a great performance by Kevin Costner as Molly’s father the film almost manages it but the problem here is she is defined through another character and not by herself. We are led to the answer of who this person is when the film should have answered that or at least given us enough information to make our own assessment.
While the direction cannot be faulted and its a worthy first attempt by Sorkin, who is usually solely on script duty, Molly’s Game is a mess thanks to Sorkin sticking to his tried and tested routine instead of really getting inside this characters head and seeing what makes her tick because ultimately that would be a film I would want to watch.