Molly’s Game review: Jessica Chastain owns the game

Aaron Sorkin has been writing for TV and movies for a long, long time. It is only now that he makes the move from page to camera in his first directorial effort, Molly’s Game.

Jessica Chastain stars as Molly Bloom, a woman who ends up running one of the highest stake poker games in the world. This is a true story like much of Sorkin’s film work (Moneyball, The Social Network, Charlie Wilson’s War), and yet doesn’t feel like many true-to-life stories.

Jessica Chastain truly owns the screen, one can be transfixed by her every word and action in this role. She is utterly brilliant. Having been a must-watch talent for some time taking supporting roles in The Martian and Interstellar while also taking starring roles in smaller pictures like Mama, it is great to see her get the exposure she deserves in a big drama, an Aaron Sorkin drama no less.

She holds her own and commands the screen with ease. She is a woman of power, and yet plays it with a delicate balance of vulnerability. It’s almost as if there is something underneath it all driving her forward. Without giving anything away, it can be seen as a cliché as to what it actually is, but in fact it is masterfully done.

Idris Elba is the perfect foil for Chastain, holding the authority in scenes where it’s needed but knowing when to take a step back and let everything unfold. Having always been a fan of Elba, it was really great to see him chew on Sorkin’s dialogue; in one scene in particular the payoff oo this team up is sublime.

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The poker games themselves are easy to follow, which for someone who doesn’t know anything about the game is a welcome relief. The narration helps with this, but overall the usage of Chastain narrating over certain scenes comes across a bit forced. I would assume a more experienced director would find an easier way, or be more conservative with the narration as a technique. But this is merely a minor quibble.

For a first time director, Aaron Sorkin doesn’t break the book or do anything miraculous. But this is a solid film. He knows when to hold back, when to cut to important moments, and more importantly he knows how to shoot his autuer-like dialogue. This is a promising debut from a writer that has been a Hollywood mainstay for over 20 years.

Poker is a game of skill over chance. This is an idea that Sorkin plays with over the course of the film. But this is more the story of Molly, and her hold against powerful men. Sorkin seems to be examining whether this was a matter of skill on her part, or if this was just chance that happened to put her in this situation. Maybe it’s both.

In any case this is a must watch, for Jessica Chastain’s performance as Molly Bloom and for the skill of Aaron Sorkin’s screenwriting.

Molly’s Game is in cinemas now.