Thursday, 4 January 2018

#3 MOLLY'S GAME


Starring Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O'Dowd and Bill Camp. Written and directed Aaron Sorkin, based on the book Molly's Game by Molly Bloom. Budget $30 million. Running time 140 minutes. Certificate 15.

The rise and fall and rise and fall 'true story' of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), the one-time Olympic free-style skier who, following one accident too many, gave up her olympic ambitions and dreams of becoming a lawyer to run a fantastically successful high-stakes poker game, first in Hollywood and then in New York City. The film follows Molly as she prepares her defence case with idealogical defence lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) against federal charges.

Told exclusively from Molly's point of view and no-one else's, the film charts her life from young teenage precocious skiing protege to a pill-popping poker queen desperately trying to protect the true identities of her clients and her links to the Russian Mafia.

Kuddos must go to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who progresses to director for the first time. The film looks extremely good, is well directed and well acted, particularly from Jessica Chastain who single-handedly dominates every scene she's in from start to finish, she is the voice of the film and focus. However, there in lies the rub, because for a woman who ran a multi-million dollar poker game she seems just a little too nice and honest. And at the end you can't help but feel the film is a little one sided in its portrayal of a young woman apparently utterly oblivious to the fact much of the money she was coining it came from organised crime or the pockets of desperate gambling addicts (even if she is taking them to one side after they've lost millions and offering them paid for counselling. She's presented as almost a saint in her decency and it begins to sound too fake, like the old Hollywood bio pics of the 1930s, but this time with more buxom, bulging bosom. What made Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas so compelling was that he didn't try to white wash it's main character Henry Hill, presenting him warts and all, which had the effect of humanising him to a degree. In this film, Chastain's portrayal of Bloom presents us with a character seemingly more intelligent than everyone and that becomes quite annoying causing us to ultimately dislike her. And by the end of it you realise that rather than applaud her decision to plead guilty rather than accept the FBI deal to walk free with $5 million in exchange for just releasing her computer files, you should be booing her.     

When this film focuses on the mechanics of poker and the setting up of the gambling clubs it is a fascinating and rather interesting film that grips, less successful is the mechanics of the legal battle, which since it is played for real becomes somewhat dull and tedious.

Likewise her relationship with her father, played as always brilliantly by Kevin Costner, feels a little too fake particularly in the 'three years of therapy in three minutes' sequence late in the third act.

Aaron Sorkin directs the poker scenes with real aplomb and manages to create a gripping and exciting series of action sequences and its great to see another strong female lead who's not a victim.

Ultimately an interesting and well directed film diminished by a character who refuses to reveal any vulnerability, even when she's beaten up by a Mafia heavy, and becomes just too damn unlikable, unlike Henry Hill who despite his many violent foibles became strangely likeable. 8/10

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