You spent eight years running the world's most exclusive, glamorous and decadent man-cave.
Anyone familiar with Aaron Sorkin's work (The West Wing, The Newsroom, The Social Network) will know what he does best - create intensely written drama from the minutiae of professional life. Politicians, lawyers, journalists and CEOs have all come under his scrutiny to engrossing effect. In Molly's Game he focuses that same intelligence as both writer and director towards the world of high-end gambling, with Jessica Chastain running the proceedings. It proves a potent dramatic cocktail.
The film is based on the real-life Molly Blume's own memoir of how she, a one-time Olympic skiing hopeful and political science graduate, ended up at twenty-six running a high-stakes LA poker game. Business tycoons and celebrities were the regular players, the game moving and growing until after eight years it drew the worrying attention of the FBI. This we all know in the movie's first ten minutes, Blume calling on the services of lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) to defend her against some extraordinary charges. What unfolds during the lawyer/client exchanges is a compelling story of how one woman operated within that toxic world, before events tumbled out of control and threatened to destroy everything she had.
Sorkin's writing style has always been clever-clogs dialogue that rattles along at around three hundred words a minute and expects the audience to keep up. His visual style as a first-time director matches that, lightening edits zipping us through Molly's story at the same break-neck pace with which she narrates (and at one point skis). Combined with the fevered environment of the gambling rooms, it's reminiscent of Scorsese epics Goodfellas or (obviously) Casino. It works too, in that even if the poker stuff is baffling to non-players, the drama always makes sense, rivetingly so.
This pacy recounting of Molly's gambling hostess days is inter-cut with the lawyer's office scenes - less frenetic visually, but still fuelled by that astonishing mile-a-minute dialogue. It's the one issue you might take with Sorkin's writing - so often his characters speak with that rapid-fire hyper-intelligence that you virtually never hear in real life. That said, it's great fun to hang out for two hours in a world where the characters do have words and wit as sharp as a sushi knife. This reality is heightened, and it's exhilarating to experience.
Jessica Chastain is a perfect fit for such a world and for her character. She brings the same smarts to Molly as she did last year to her title role in Miss Sloane, and indeed the women are similar - composed, super-competent, high-functioning addicts, steering an impressive course through what has been a traditionally male world. The sheer poise and take-no-crap determination with which she does it means you root for her from the start. Idris Elba is thankfully a match for her, so that their wrangling as lawyer and client becomes another of the film's delights. The reason this righteous man agrees to take her case adds a whole other layer to Molly's character and provides the story with a surprising moral centre. (Not a bad thing, after all that high-end gambling den grubbiness.)
With Kevin Costner as Molly's demanding dad and a couple of other enjoyable cameo surprises thrown in, Molly's Game is slick and smart entertainment from its adrenaline-rush opening. Yes it's intellectually demanding, but this is a story with which you'll definitely want to keep up.
Gut Reaction: Seriously watching throughout, seriously satisfied at the end.
Where are the Women?: Jessica C is the poster-girl for strong smart women portraying the same on-screen. Her Molly plays the game with self-possession and style.
Ed's Verdict: 8/10. Demanding, lightening-paced drama, with a reserved but powerful central performance and support to match. Perfect for dusting down your New Year mental cobwebs.