The title turned me off at first. Molly’s Game. Sounded young adult or chick flick, two genres I don’t watch often. Maybe that’s why I didn’t notice the film when it came out in 2017.
But then I discovered Jessica Chastain was the star. She’s on my list. She appeared in two movies I thought were excellent and I highly recommend: Take Shelter (she plays the wife of Michael Shannon, another favorite of mine); and A Most Violent Year (again a wife, but powerful). Both of those movies deserve a lot more attention than they’ve gotten.
Chastain also played a savvy and obsessive CIA agent in Zero Dark Thirty.
In Molly’s Game, she plays Molly Bloom, who rises from waitress to personal assistant to hosting a super high-stakes poker game, where insanely rich people might drop more than $500K on their gambling addiction in a night.
The movie is based on the true story of Molly Bloom, who ran a poker game for movie stars, famous athletes, and CEOs. A few years into her venture, she got arrested by the FBI.
The film opens with Molly getting arrested, so that part is no spoiler, and then her backstory fills in. There’s a great sequence of young Molly as a promising, Olympic caliber skier under the thumb of a domineering father (Kevin Costner). Here we discover the origin of Molly’s feelings towards powerful father figures. There follows a lot of sharp scenes of Molly handling a group of rich, entitled men. It’s a rotating cast of card players, but several are regulars and we get a little closer to the root of their gambling, their neediness.
The screenplay is strong, with Chastain’s first person voice over moving the story always forward, even during flashbacks. I have a weakness for voice over in film, because it’s literary. Done right, voice over in movies combines the best of the written word and visual storytelling.
Overall, the dialog strikes as authentic. Quick visual editing gets across the concept of poker and its pressure stakes, without dulling viewers with an actual game. There’s nothing shocking or even surprising about the ending, but the climax and conclusion fit the story well.