Aaron Sorkin finally directed one of his screenplays and the results are pretty much what you’d expect. That snappy, Sorkiny dialogue explodes out of characters’ mouths at a fever pitch. Rat-a-tat snark and smarm slowly tease out a plot and ram themes down viewers’ throats. ‘Molly’s Game’ is fairly fun and rather funny. After all, Aaron Sorkin is good at making Aaron Sorkin projects. But it also gets tiresome quickly.
Jessica Chastain stars as Molly Bloom, a woman who came one unfortunate accident away from being an Olympic skier and then went on to run a massively successful underground poker circuit. The FBI eventually caught her, but aside from gambling infractions, she didn’t do much wrong. What they wanted was for her to give details on her powerful (and frequently famous or criminal) clients. The story mostly unfolds in flashback as Bloom explains her life and case to her attorney (Idris Elba). Salacious showbiz tales and million dollar poker hands mix with clever business building and inevitable crime connections. Mostly it’s just an excuse for Sorkin to get characters talking, and good lord do they ever talk.
As a director, Sorkin proves to have a surprisingly decent visual style, putting together an impressive ski accident as an opening salvo and tossing in a number of clever shots and montages throughout. Of course, his focus is the dialogue and the damn fine actors hired to deliver it. Jessica Chastain dominates, having tried out some Sorkin-lite dialogue in last year’s ‘Miss Sloane’ as a practice round to knock this out of the park. She brilliantly spits out the tongue-twisters and creates a powerful and endearing jerk, in the Sorkin way. The only trouble is that the actress and character are such powerful presences that Sorkin doesn’t have many other characters who measure up.
Some performers (especially an enjoyably stunt-cast Michael Cera) carve out a delightful piece of the pie. But for the most part, this is the Jessica Chastain and Aaron Sorkin show, with viewers’ tolerance for the material depending on how much they enjoy them. As for Molly Bloom? She’s compelling enough. The poker games run too long, but her long game is fascinating. In fact, the whole thing is pretty good for almost two hours. Then it gets labored and Sorkin’s metaphors, rhythms and words run stale. Worse yet, the movie stops for an overt therapy session in the third act that just might be the most embarrassing, grating and dumbfounding scene that Sorkin’s ever written. It almost kills the movie, but not quite. Definitely stunts it, though.