Over the years of writing fast-talking dialogue for television and film, Aaron Sorkin has developed such a recognisable signature style that he could well be dubbed a screenplay auteur. He penned the scripts for acclaimed movies such as A Few Good Men, The Social Network and Moneyball, and now he is at the helm of his directorial debut. Adapted from the memoir of the same name, crime drama Molly’s Game retells an incredible true story of an Olympic-class skier who found herself at the centre of a federal indictment. After a horrific injury forces her into early retirement from sport, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) moves to LA to start again, and her PA job leads to her involvement in a weekly high-stakes poker tournament, exclusive to the elite, rich, and famous. When her underground activity attracts the attention of the FBI, she visits lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) to ask for help.
The highs and lows of Molly’s rise to notoriety are presented to us across different timelines, with the narrative jumping between the before, during, and after of the criminal movements in question. This approach could have become confusing if in the wrong hands, but a slick Scorsese-esque voiceover is implemented as the protagonist guides us through her life. The narration provides humour and valuable insight into her meticulous methodology, and harmonises with Sorkin’s trademark intellectual dialogue. The poker scenes themselves are particularly enjoyable. Often when card schools are seen on-screen, they are sensationalised for dramatic effect, but Sorkin’s use of true terminology gives the movie an authenticity that is befitting to the source material.
In the central role, Jessica Chastain gives a powerhouse performance. She plays it tough on the outside, tender on the inside and gets the balance just right. Determined and disciplined, the character wears heavy make-up on her poker face to give a steely show to the flash punters she entertains, always appearing to be in control. Chastain’s masterstroke is in giving her enough softness beneath the surface and that allows the touching father-daughter subplot to have impact in the moments she shares with Kevin Costner, who is reliably great in the few scenes he’s involved in. While Molly holds all the aces, there’s a rich tapestry of supporting players that dip in and out of the plot, from Idris Elba’s cocksure lawyer Charlie to Chris O’Dowd’s bumbling drunk Douglas. They all exceed in bringing out more depth in Bloom, with each loaded interaction finding another tell to reveal her complex psyche.
Though he draws on filmmaking influences and adapts a ‘stranger than fiction’ tale, Aaron Sorkin has crafted an outstanding debut that still has his fingerprints all over it. Molly’s Game is like a modern-day Goodfellas but with the bullets tucked up its sleeve, and Chastain delivers a turn that really ups the ante of her unsurmountable talents. Through the extraordinary woman the tabloids labelled as the ‘poker princess’, Sorkin has achieved the crowning glory of his cinematic career to date.