Everybody wants to be a filmmaker, or so it seems. Of course, actors making the move behind the camera has become common practice, but with Molly’s Game it is award-winning scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin who has decided to try his hand at the directing caper. Having penned the likes of The Social Network, Moneyball and TV’s The West Wing, Sorkin is undeniably a talented writer, however the Sony email hack from 2014 also revealed that he is not the most enlightened individual, with leaked emails revealing that, at best, he is an arrogant ignoramus and, at worst, a misogynistic, racist clown. Given his disparaging comments about female actors, it certainly is interesting that Sorkin has opted for a film with a female lead as his directorial debut. Perhaps even more surprising is that the female lead in question is Jessica Chastain who, as an advocate for gender equality, has become one of the most outspoken voices against sexism in the entertainment industry. However, the fact that Sorkin may well be a douchebag of the highest order is largely irrelevant in evaluating his work and, with her story, former freestyle skiing champion Molly Bloom has gifted Sorkin a remarkable tale that has all the ingredients to make a captivating big screen drama. Unfortunately, Sorkin has failed to fully realise the potential of the story, in part due to a reluctance to take on the Hollywood big shots who are identified in Bloom’s book.
Bloom’s childhood and her rise to the top of her sport oozes potential for a film of its own, but the movie opens with Bloom (Chastain) suffering a career-ending injury in her attempt to qualify for a spot at the Winter Olympics. With skiing out of the picture, Molly takes a job as an assistant to Dean Keith (real estate entrepreneur Darin Fenstein in real life) who organises a weekly poker game at The Cobra Lounge (a not-too-subtle clue that the real club in question was The Viper Room). Soon enough, Molly is handed the responsibility of organising and running the game and it isn’t long before she sees the potential in such a set-up. When she and Keith part ways, Molly decides to establish her own game, taking Keith’s biggest players with her, one of whom is identified in the movie only as Player X, although is it generally accepted that X is really Spiderman star Tobey Maguire, who features prominently in Bloom’s book. As played by Michael Cera, Player X is an asshole who ultimately plays a significant role in Molly’s downfall.
When she is arrested, Molly turns to lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) to represent her and he, in the interests of securing leniency from the courts, implores Molly to name the various players at her games beyond those already exposed in her book or who have already been identified in the course of the investigation, a suggestion she rejects outright. It is somewhat ironic therefore that Sorkin takes an even more conservative approach to this very issue in that, whilst his screenplay has Molly under pressure to give up her players names, he refuses to identify even those participants – such as the likes of Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Affleck – who Bloom mentioned in her memoir.
Chastain, Elba and Cera are all fine enough in the key roles, with everybody else confined to the margins, including Kevin Costner as Molly’s father, a somewhat one-dimensional and rather contemptible character whose approval Molly has spent so much of her life trying to secure. Given that Bloom was involved in the adaptation of her story to the screen, it is reasonable to assume that her father was, indeed, the utter prick that we see here. Whilst Molly’s Game allows us a glimpse into a world of high stakes poker that is fascinating but far beyond the reach of us ordinary folk, the ending ultimately emerges as an anti-climax that leaves you wondering what all the fuss was about.