231. Molly’s Game

★★

“Molly’s Game” doesn’t necessarily prove that Sorkin can’t be a formidable filmmaker, but it does prove that he is accustomed to crafting a certain type of story, and that other individuals may be better equipped at bringing it to life. It features a female protagonist but its themes are still about male domination. Instead of giving breathing room to its more heartfelt or insightful moments, it bets too big and too fast before the river has even been flipped.

Jessica Chastain plays Molly Bloom, the confident and distanced poker queen who channeled angst against her dad into an underground poker empire. She oozes coolness and intrigue, keeping her head held high even when its being thrown into a wall by gangsters. But, she shows little to no emotion, no authentic human reaction until near the end of the film. This might be true to how Molly was in real-life, afraid to show emotion and needing to keep a cold but professional distance. Still, Sorkin can’t find a way to chip underneath all that ice.

Unlike blackjack, poker is a slow moving game where drama builds and releases in periodic but powerful doses. Sorkin doesn’t understand that, thinking that because it’s a card game movie, it needs to be like “Casino” or “21” and move just as fast. We don’t have time to effectively build relationships with characters on screen or care for their respective struggles. The funny quips and verbal jabs are welcomed, like notes about “The Crucible” from Idris Elba who plays Molly’s lawyer. Or psychological word games from Kevin Costner that plays her dad. But when these characters are off-screen, we forget they even exist.

“Aaron Sorkin can’t write for women” is a common complaint you’ll hear about the Oscar-winning screenwriter. That’s what made “Molly’s Game,” the closing feature of AFI FEST, such an intriguing project for Sorkin. It is, from what I recall, his first form of media to focus specifically on a woman, where someone other than a man is helming the story and not serving as second-hand interest to a male character. It’s also his first feature that he actually directed, a bit surprising considering he’s been a sturdy presence in Hollywood since the 1990s. But “Molly’s Game” erratic and unfocused progression proves that Sorkin might have cashed in his directorial chips too soon.

 

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