A great film can present itself non-linearly and still have you understand all of the information just as well as if it were presented linearly. If it’s done poorly, it leaves you confused, but if it’s done well, you get a near-perfect film.
But along with a sporadic narrative, you also need a compelling story. Something that makes you want to follow a film through all of its twists and turns.
Molly’s Game is a film that’s appealing because it loves the grey areas. Mostly because writer/director Aaron Sorkin is a fan of these. Whether it’s in a character whose moral compass is pointing in no convincing direction, or a scenario that really has no right or wrong answer. In this case, he gives us both.
The film follows Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a former competitive-skier who, after a bad accident during a competition, drastically changes her life, eventually leading to her starting one of the biggest underground poker rings in the country.
It’s a film of epic proportions, with Chastain giving a performance rivaling her best. Molly changes so much from beginning to end, while always allowing us to see her true self underneath it all.
While a movie like The Big Short explains complicated things in a colloquial fashion, Molly’s Game requires a little bit more work and previous knowledge of poker. There’s a lot of esoteric jargon, but it never leaves you high and dry. You have to understand the game a little bit, but instead of trying to explain it in a contrived way, Sorkin opts to just keep the poker, itself, as basic as possible–not really discussing hands outside of pairs, three-of-a-kinds, and full houses.
Idris Elba does an amazing job playing Molly’s lawyer, Charlie Jaffey. He and Chastain have absolute firework chemistry. When they banter on screen you can’t look away.
Charlie is the real good guy in the movie. Molly is our protagonist, but not all protagonists come in a neatly wrapped package. Like I said, she walks the line somewhere in the middle, morally. So if Sorkin makes his main protagonist an anti-hero, he still has to have an actual hero to represent the one end of the spectrum. Charllie is that guy. Then we have characters, like Player X (Michael Cera)–an anonymous actor who tries to ruin people’s lives by making them go broke–who represent the other end.
There are tons of things keeping this film afloat, but I suppose it could have had a tighter grip on its themes. A lot of times you get the sense that it’s merely a cool story for the sake of telling us a cool story.
Some may get the feeling of “why do we care?” Well, in a way it’s also a character study. Why do we ever care about a character study? Because the character being studied is a unique and complex individual. Not only is Molly Bloom both of these, but so are the situations she’s put herself in.
Molly’s Game has a tendency to act self-aggrandized for the sake of being cool. But it’s a cool film. Why wouldn’t it want to show it off a little? Maybe the most impressive thing Sorkin does here is make us believe that this topic is way more interesting and important than it actually is. That sounds like a slight, but it’s not. It’s actually high praise.