Release Date: November 22, 2017
Director: Aaron Sorkin
MPAA Rating: NR
Runtime: 140 minutes
Aaron Sorkin is not a writer of diverse material. When he wrote a sports show, it was really about economic changes in the news. When he wrote a show about a comedy program, it was really about politics. When he wrote a sports movie, it was really about statistics. When he wrote a movie about Facebook, it was filtered through lawsuits. He’s interested in the law, the media and politics and will fit any story he writes to address that material.
This has become a joke in fan circles of The West Wing and other Sorkin hits. His re-use of lines, scene construction and dialogue flow have achieved clip parody status online. And yet none of this is derogatory because Aaron Sorkin, despite his repetitiveness, is still a great writer. He fundamentally understands how to structure a story to achieve maximum momentum and catharsis. His films don’t just sound great, they feel great, no matter who is directing his material.
Molly’s Game, Sorkin’s directorial debut, is peak Aaron Sorkin. It has fast-paced, walk-and-talk dialogue. He uses all the flourishes picked up from Danny Boyle and David Fincher in his editing. Father issues take a central role in the main character’s conflict. I honestly don’t know if he could have made a film that was more Sorkineque without fleecing the cast of his old shows and having a cameo from Mark Zuckerberg and the Winkelvii.
That being said, it works, and it works incredibly well. Jessica Chastain (playing the titular Molly Bloom) is phenomenally charismatic. The film follows her, switching between flashbacks on how she got into her legal troubles and conversations with her lawyer, played by the endlessly charming Idris Elba. The two of them tell a compelling story about the nature of the 1-percent, old-boys’ club, how they treat women, how they treat people of color and how they treat the law. No matter what Molly does in the film, she is always an object to her patrons, a means to an end.
But Molly is never vengeful, never cruel. It would have been easy for Sorkin to turn this story into a revenge narrative (minus having to alter what happened in real life), but everything is much more compelling without that. Chastain’s performance is based around Molly making practical choices for self preservation and then dealing internally with the morality of those choices. And it’s those central moments of her discerning the impact of her actions that elevates the film beyond other similar films.
The films 21, Now You See Me, Focus and plenty of others have tried to do the high-stakes gambling movie and failed. Those films all try to be Aaron Sorkin pieces, with snappy dialogue and flash, but they are all missing the heart at the center. That’s what Sorkin gets so right here. Molly Bloom is not a bad person, and we spend the movie learning that with her instead of about her; and that’s much more of satisfying a conclusion.