Molly's game: a film review

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The film is based on the fascinating story of Molly Bloom, an intriguing real-life person. It’s worth buying your ticket just for that. Don’t expect well drawn characters or anything outside of the Hollywood soapbox, though.

Molly’s game is Aaron Sorkin’s debut as director. As scriptwriter (Moneyball, The social network, Steve Jobs), he has honed his skill of explaining quite easily rather complex ideas, such as baseball in Moneyball and poker in Molly’s game. Sorkin wrote a solid, catchy script (although I have an issue with some of the oversimplified facts); three editors put it all together brilliantly, and Jessica Chastain narrates the entire film. Yes, there is a lot of information and, of course, some of it will be lost, but the bulk of it is presented in a fast, accessible and hugely entertaining way. I was never bored during any of the 140 minutes. (I did roll my eyes and cringe at times, though.)

Jessica Chastain is good, as per usual, but this role is rather fluffy compared to the women she played in Zero dark thirty and Take shelter (one of my all-time favourite films). Molly is only half a character. Yes, we soon realise she is clever, driven and confident, but that’s about all you learn about her. She remains chilly and aloof. You don’t like or dislike her. You don’t care all that much. I blame it on how Sorkin portrays women. More about that later.

A lot is being made of the fact that the film tackles patriarchy. I must have blinked during that segment. Sure, she eventually puts together an all-women team, because the boys don’t play nice. Yet, according to the film, her whole life revolves around her daddy issues. Her father (Kevin Costner) also sweeps in at the end to explain her life to her in a particularly cringeworthy scene.

As a legal drama, it doesn’t really break the mould. The lawyer (a disappointingly boring Idris Elba with a failing American accent) does not want to represent her at first. Then he does. Then he becomes a Molly fan. Then he delivers a burning monologue. Then the judge surprises everyone. Yawn.

There is what I call the Schindler’s list factor. Sorkin makes Molly out to be an angel, an innocent in all this. Even her drug habit is described in a light, easy manner. A complex, flailing, flawed character would have been much more interesting, and possibly closer to the truth. But, then, I suspect the angelic, clever, driven and honourable woman is the image Molly Bloom herself wants to put out into the world. Sorkin did base his script on her autobiography, after all.

There is also the schmaltz factor. Molly fighting for her name because that is all she has left. Molly becoming the lawyer’s daughter’s hero. Molly reuniting with her father. Molly sitting down for a family reunion dinner at the end of the movie. The list goes on.

What bothered me most about the film was Jessica Chastain’s boobs. There is nothing wrong with them, except for the fact that they are scantily covered and on display in every scene, to the point where they become the focal point of the film. (Chastain based her look on J.Lo. Listen to her take on it during the Variety Studio Actors on Actors talk with the incredible Holly Hunter.) I do get it. Chastain had to dress the part of a game runner. She had to lure the boys into the man cave. But, enough is enough at some point. Couple the gratuitous cleavage with a fairly one-dimensional character, and you’re left with another addition to Aaron Sorkin’s long line of misogynistic work.

But, hey, it was entertaining.

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