In 2014, Molly Bloom wrote a book called “Molly’s Game: From Hollywood Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys’ Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker.”
However, she “wrote it before the good part happened.” Aaron Sorkin, in his directorial debut, not only sees Molly’s fascinating story to its conclusion, he creates something far more powerful in the process: a superhero.
Molly (Jessica Chastain) doesn’t fly or lift trains, but at her core is a fighter who gets stronger after every punch. “My goal was to win. At what? Against whom? Those were just details.” With a determination instilled in her by her bristly father (Kevin Costner), Molly trained from a young age to become one of the best competitive skiers, despite the pain from her rapid onset scoliosis. After a freak incident at the Olympic qualifiers involving a frozen pine bough and the early release of her ski, her neat little path in life began to melt away like the blood-stained ice beneath her broken body.
But that’s just her origin story. Throughout exchanges described in the book and refined by Sorkin’s signature rapid-fire dialogue, Molly recounts with steady clarity how she quickly won the control of celebrities and billionaires after stumbling into the world of high-stakes poker.
With the exception of what her lawyer, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), calls “the Cinemax version of herself,” the film focuses on Molly’s staggering determination, deviating from the unfortunate industry preoccupation with glamour, sex and drugs. We watch as she deftly dodges insults, threats and come-ons; skillfully lures big spenders to the table; and builds an empire within the meager walls of a hotel room.
Then, when it all comes tumbling down and the FBI takes everything from her, she still defends the reputations of the lowlifes by refusing to turn over her hard drives containing their dirty information in exchange for immunity. “I am literally going to blow them up and scatter the little pieces in the sea.” It’s this commendable code of morality that lays the groundwork for the majority of the film’s shining moments.
The movie is crammed with quick jargon referencing the deepest of nuances in poker, law and business but it succinctly elaborates on the essentials in a method similar to that of “The Big Short.” However, instead of Margot Robbie in a bathtub, Molly interjects with a sharp-witted honesty that both spits and sighs.
Chastain’s confident portrayal of Molly, both as a mastermind and as mortal woman who bleeds just as freely as anyone, is sure to be repeatedly referenced in the upcoming award season. Her duality, something rarely fleshed out in female characters, makes Molly the living, breathing, fighting spirit for any woman who has felt helpless because of a man. Her power is resiliency, her goal is to win and, if we’ve learned one thing, it’s that she’s “very hard to kill.”
Written by Elena Burnett.