Sunday, April 19, 2020

Molly's Game

Based on the memoir by Molly Bloom, Molly’s Game is the story about a mogul skier who decides to run an underground poker empire that makes her rich until she gets the attention of the FBI. Written for the screen and directed by Aaron Sorkin, the film is a dramatic telling of Molly Bloom’s life story as she is a woman struggling to re-define herself after her dreams of being an Olympic skier fell apart while hoping to retain the new life that she created for herself as Bloom is portrayed by Jessica Chastain. Also starring Idris Elba, Jeremy Strong, Michael Cera, Chris O’Dowd, Joe Keery, Bill Camp, Brian D’Arcy James, and Kevin Costner. Molly’s Game is an intoxicating and chilling film from Aaron Sorkin.

Following a failed attempt to qualify for the 2002 Winter Olympics as a mogul skier due to an unfortunate accident, Molly Bloom would reinvent herself in running an underground poker empire after working for an unsuccessful real estate dealer in planning his underground poker games and making something of herself until she gets the attention of the FBI. It’s a film with a simple premise as it play into a woman trying to create a new life for herself as she is driven to become successful on her own terms yet would put herself in dangerous when her gambling business include Russian mobsters that would attract unwanted attention as she turns to an attorney who tries to understand her as well as read her just-released memoir. Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay doesn’t exactly follow a traditional narrative as sort of moves back-and-forth into the life of Molly Bloom from when she’s running her poker enterprise as well as awaiting trial for the crimes she’s being accused of.

Notably as Bloom is someone who had wanted to become an Olympic skier as she was trained and motivated by her psychiatrist father Larry Bloom (Kevin Costner) whom she has a tense relationship with as she would rarely speak with him after her Olympic career ended. Though she was meant to go to law school, she instead moved to Los Angeles and took a year off where she was a bottle service waitress and then working for a real estate dealer who often had underground poker games that would feature various people including top poker players, major athletes, and a movie star in Player X (Michael Cera). Though she is successful in Los Angeles as she would forge her own career, things do get complicated where Sorkin’s script reveal what forced Bloom to move to New York City as well as exploring her own downfall as it relates to the people she would meet and their connection to the Russian mafia. Sorkin also reveal some of Bloom’s own motivations and her own growing sense of disdain towards men of power while turning to high-priced attorney Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) for counsel as he’s to defend her in court yet he is someone that would get to know her and wonder what she is all about.

Sorkin’s direction is largely straightforward in terms of the compositions as it is shot on various locations in New York City, Los Angeles, and parts of Canada including Toronto with the last of the three locations playing into Bloom’s early life and her time trying to become an Olympic skier. While Sorkin does create some unique wide shots to establish some of the locations, much of his direction is intimate in its usage of medium shots and close-ups to get an interaction into the characters as well as in the framing where the poker players are in the foreground playing while Bloom is in the background looking at her laptop and observing the game. Sorkin’s direction also play into the world of underground poker and how it’s a game of wit and control as Bloom is someone who likes to be in control of everything. Notably in the film’s first half that is set in Los Angeles where Bloom has gained control and lots of money until she sees a player completely lose it as well as learn about Player X’s activities when it comes to recruiting players.

The second half set in New York City that moves back-and-forth into Bloom’s meetings with Jaffey as well as her activities in the city as she had games in expensive hotel suites and a richer clientele but would also take some money from the games that would end up being illegal. Even as it involves a drunken Irish-American businessman in Douglas Downey (Chris O’Dowd) who would introduce Bloom to the Russians as Sorkin’s direction showcases this craziness that would occur. Notably in the third act as it relates to a client in Los Angeles who played at her games as well as many other things where Sorkin shows a woman who has been trying to do things her way in a man’s world yet finds herself going into this air of uncertainty about what to do next as she faces serious trouble despite Jaffey’s help. Overall, Sorkin crafts an evocative and compelling film about a woman running an underground poker empire that would eventually fall apart.

Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it is largely straightforward with some stylish lighting for the nighttime interiors to help set the mood of the poker games as well as some of the exterior scenes at night. Editors Alan Baumgarten, Josh Schaeffer, and Elliot Graham do fantastic work with the editing as it has some elements of style in its usage of montages, jump-cuts, and stylish fade-outs to play into the drama in the film. Production designer David Wasco, with set decorator Patricia Larman and art director Brandt Gordon, does brilliant work with the look of the hotel suites, bars, and such where some of the poker games occur as well as the New York apartment Bloom lived in and Jaffey’s office. Costume designer Susan Lyall does nice work with the costumes that include a lot of the stylish and cleavage-revealing dresses that Bloom wears when she’s at work as well as the casual clothes she would wear off-work.

Hair stylist Carol Hartwick and makeup artist Alastair Muir do amazing work with the look that Bloom would take in the years of making herself look presentable for her empire. Visual effects supervisor Aaron Weintraub does terrific work with the film’s minimal visual effects that include a few bits of set dressing including scenes during Bloom’s time as a skier. Sound editors Michael J. Benavente and David McCallum, along with sound designer Todd Toon, do superb work with the film’s sound in the atmosphere of intimate card games as well as some of the sounds that occur in poker houses and some of the quieter moments in Bloom’s home and Jaffey’s office. The film’s music by Daniel Pemberton is wonderful for its low-key electronic score that play into the drama as well as some of the darker moments in the film while music supervisors Carlton Kaller and Sean Mulligan provide a soundtrack of music that is diverse ranging from artists/bands such as Thenewno2, Temple of the Dogs, Thunderpussy, the Raveonettes, Sly and the Family Stone, Alexander McCabe, Sammy Davis Jr., and Tommy James.

The casting by Francine Maisler is incredible as it feature some notable small roles from Piper Howell and Samantha Isler in their respective roles as the adolescent and teenage Bloom, Jon Bass as famous guy who tries to sell a Bloom a famous painting as collateral for a game, Claire Rankin as Bloom’s mother, Natalie Krill, Stephanie Herfield, Madison McKinley as a trio of former Playboy Playmates who work for Bloom in recruiting the players in New York City, Joe Keery as a trust fund guy named Cole, Angela Gots as a poker dealer named B who would give Bloom the idea to take a percentage of large pots, Justin Kirk as a NYC player named Jay, Whitney Peak as Jaffey’s teenage daughter Stella that Bloom befriends, J.C. MacKenzie as a federal prosecutor in Harrison Wellman who deals with Jaffey over Bloom’s case, and Graham Greene in a small yet effective performance as the judge in Bloom’s trial.

Bill Camp is terrific as a card shark in Harlan Eustice who is a skilled player that collapses after losing a game while Brian d’Arcy James is superb as a hedge fund manager in Brad who is one of the game’s worst players. Chris O’Dowd is fantastic as Douglas Downey as an Irish-American businessman that introduces Bloom to the Russians while Jeremy Strong is excellent as Bloom’s real estate developer boss who would introduce her to the world of underground poker and have her plan it only to realize that she does a better job than he does. Michael Cera is brilliant as Player X as a famous movie star who would help Bloom recruit players while doing things that make Bloom uncomfortable in Los Angeles. Kevin Costner is amazing as Bloom’s father Larry who was also her coach and a psychiatrist who had become estranged with Bloom due to their tumultuous relationship as he would appear in the third act not just to make amends with her but also understand why she is in such trouble.

Idris Elba is sensational as Charlie Jaffey as an attorney who takes Bloom’s case as he would also read her memoir where he asks some questions while trying to figure out as it is one of Elba’s finest performances including a scene where he defends Bloom as he realizes that she is really a good person despite the crimes she committed. Finally, there’s Jessica Chastain in a phenomenal performance as Molly Bloom as a woman who is driven to succeed though her hopes to be an Olympic skier is dashed forcing her to find other means yet becomes cunning in her pursuit. Chastain has this ferocity in her performance as someone that doesn’t quit but it’s also a flaw when she doesn’t know when it’s time to quit as it’s a role that has Chastain be part of some bad things but try to find an understanding of why she is driven to run an underground gambling empire that is often dominated by men.

Molly’s Game is an incredible film from Aaron Sorkin that features a great leading performance from Jessica Chastain. Along with a superb ensemble cast led by an amazing supporting performance from Idris Elba as well as Sorkin’s inventive and intriguing script that is filled with unique aspects of character study. The film is definitely a fascinating drama that explore a woman trying to succeed on her own terms in the world of underground poker that is often dominated by men. In the end, Molly’s Game is a sensational film from Aaron Sorkin.

(The Trial of the Chicago 7)

© thevoid99 2020


Sonia Cerca said...

I'm so glad you finally watched this film and ended up liking it as much as I did. I read Bloom's memoir and I found that Sorkin did an excellent job adapting it. There are some aspects, especially when it comes to the character of Molly, that he further developed and allows us to understand her and her motives even more. Great review!

Jay said...

I didn't love this. I thought the performances were great but the character too whiny and entitled.

Brittani Burnham said...

I love Molly's Game! I'm happy you did too. Since it's on Netflix now I've been considering re-watching it.

thevoid99 said...

@Sonia-I liked what Sorkin did as I really liked the character of Bloom despite her actions yet she is someone who at least tried to maintain a sense of dignity as well as protect those who were really innocent.

@Jay-Sorry it didn't work for you.

@Brittani-It was a film at nearly 2 1/2 hours but it never felt like it which made it work and why I liked it a lot. Jessica Chastain fucking killed it!

Alex Withrow said...

Great review! I really enjoyed this movie, even though a lot of people shit on Costner in it haha. Damn excited for The Trial of the Chicago 7.

thevoid99 said...

@Alex-Costner was great in this as I really liked his performance as yes, his character was a terrible and pushy person but he always meant well for his daughter as his appearance late in the film does redeem him. I am eager for The Trial of the Chicago 7 despite my disdain towards Eddie Redmayne who has become such an annoying presence as of late.