Aaron Sorkin (of West Wing fame) is one of TV and movie world’s more famous writers, here turning his hand to directing on the big screen for the first time.
Taking a fascinating story from the original book by Molly Bloom herself, the movie charts her life from competitive all American Olympic-hope skier, to a felon on numerous racketeering charges.
Molly (Jessica Chastain) comes from a competitive family where her overbearing yet well meaning father (Kevin Costner) pushes or encourages, depending on your view point, the siblings to success, arguably whether they wanted it or not.
The opening sequence hooks you from the start, with Sorkin’s trademark staccato dialogue, as complex, smart and layered as usual. Following an incident well summarized in the first act, Molly is forced to change course.
Finding herself almost accidentally hosting a high stakes poker game for the Hollywood, business and sporting elite, her eyes are opened to another world. Her employer personifies every Hollywood stereotype, broke yet pretending to be rich, ridiculously demanding and topped off by being a complete ass.
However, Molly is no cocktail waitress bimbo and soon the card tables get turned and using her business smarts, Molly starts making important contacts, money and leverage.
Of course, wherever there is money and power, then corruption, violence and illegality follow close behind. Not realizing just how large her exposure is, before tooled up Fed’s come knocking one morning, Molly is in need of a good lawyer, right now.
“Charlie Jaffey” (Idris Elba) is once such lawyer, determined not to take the case. Offering only to attend the arraignment, then Molly is on her own.
The film depicts Molly as a girl on the make, using her wits and intelligence to provide exactly what powerful, rich boys want. Their own man cave, staffed by women they mostly cannot date and most importantly, offering exclusivity. If you’re not rich or powerful or ideally both, you ain’t getting in.
Like any good business, others want a piece of the pie and if the “others” are the organised mob, it can get messy and dangerous very quickly.
Molly ultimately has choices to make. Morally define who she is and stands for, or throw people under the bus to save her skin. Arguably in today’s post #metoo world, shielding what bad boys get up to, is a questionable definition of honourable. Letting the chips fall where they may, almost literally in this case, might be the better choice.
Chastain is excellent, intelligent, feisty and portraying the character as nobody’s victim, yet with a central moral core. Elba provides a great foil, with one barnstorming archetypal Sorkin speech. Costner also shows his star power, turning a few scenes into pivotal and touching moments.
Heavy on the dialogue as you would expect, arguably nobody really talks like this but it’s great to watch and listen to an intelligent, thought provoking screenplay.
A story just waiting to be told, well acted and with two great leads.
Even better than you might expect and a great example of adult cinema, albeit a long film which potentially hurt it’s chances at the box office