Jessica Chastain in ‘Molly’s Game’
“There is no such thing as women’s intuition. You all just have crap poker faces.” – Actress Rachel Shelley
“If you’ve been playing poker for half an hour and you still don’t know who the patsy is, you’re the patsy.” – Billionaire Warren Buffett
For those of us old enough to remember the television show Dragnet, we don’t need this video to remind us of the words of the narrator at the outset of each episode. But since most of us aren’t that old, here it is.
A slight rewrite of those words is in order to preface the film being review. The story being told is true (mostly). Most, but not all of the names have been changed, for various reasons.
Molly’s Game is based on the book by Molly Bloom (played as an adult by Jessica Chastain) titled “Molly’s Game: The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive, High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World.”
She grew up in Colorado and was trying to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team to ski moguls for the 1998 Winter Games at Salt Lake City when events transpired to put that dream to rest once and for all. She wound up in Los Angeles prior to her planned attendance at law school, to take some time off first. She winds up working as an assistant for “Dean Keith” (Jeremy Strong – The Big Short). On the side he organizes a weekly poker game for his wealthy circle of friends and he adds running the game (for tips only) to Molly’s workload. The popularity of poker, especially Texas Hold’em has skyrocketed after an amateur named Chris Moneymaker won the main event at the 2003 World Series of Poker.
The players love how Molly runs the game and when Dean tries to screw her on the deal, she starts her own game. She has the assistance of “Player X” (Michael Cera – The End of Love) and moving the games from a club’s basement to a suite in an upscale Beverly Hills hotel is a welcome change of ambience. Then events transpire to take the game away from her, due to the machinations of Player X and Molly has to come up with a new plan.
She does. She starts an even bigger game, in bigger hotel suites in New York City. Better still, because her income is solely based on tips from players, the game is technically legal. But if she were to begin taking a “rake” (a percentage of each pot from each hand), that would be illegal. When the amount of money she has on the street gets to be too big, at the urging of one of her dealers. That winds up being a big mistake.
She is indicted by the Justice Department and turns in desperation to “Charlie Jaffey” (Idris Elba – Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom) to represent her. The stories of the various players in her game who are the real criminals are best left to be experienced while watching the film rather than detailed here.
Aaron Sorkin’s is a brilliant writer who does well in his directorial debut. Having his own written words to work from helped. So does having Chastain and Elba in the lead roles. Kevin Costner does well playing the real father of Molly Bloom, as does Samantha Isler as the teenaged Bloom. While the nonlinear structure is effective, the visual pacing is uneven enough to be distracting.
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One of the major pieces of poetic license taken in the film is that people named in the book have pseudonyms in the movie. Is “Player X” a composite of several famed A-listers, or is it a particular actor? You’ll have to decide that for yourself.