Molly’s Game: Poker Face 

Jessica Chastain leaves a chill over Aaron Sorkin’s drama.

click to enlarge Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in Molly's Game.
  • Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in Molly's Game.

This must be the week for troubled winter athletes. First up was the ice skating scandal I, Tonya, and now it's time for a disappointed downhill ski racer. As based on the book by Molly Bloom, Molly's Game shows what happens to Molly (played by Jessica Chastain), a fiercely competitive skier, when she gets sidelined by injuries and then channels her energy into a dangerous new game: high-stakes poker.

Fascinating as Molly's new career is — running $10,000-buy-in Texas Hold 'Em tournaments, staffed by sexy models, in hotel suites for a select clientele of macho big-shots — the big selling point for the movie is that it is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriting whiz who created The Social Network and Moneyball. And there is a certain amount of real-world thrills in Molly's risky line of business, alongside a large amount of dialogue. Sorkin likes his stories intricate and talky, with lots of details. We meet nutty guys like "Bad Brad" (Brian d'Arcy James); Harlan the family man (Bill Camp); Douglas Downey (Chris O'Dowd), the loser who introduces Molly to the Russian mob (uh-oh); and Molly's lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), who defends her against a RICO indictment. Rich suckers galore.

Our trip down the rabbit hole is a long one, and the sameness of Molly's predicament — broken up as it is by hop-scotching flashbacks of her dad (Kevin Costner) schooling her in the ways of the athlete — wears on us. After a frantic first two hours, the pic goes into a "finding herself" pattern, which means losing us. Chastain, never a particularly warm, vibrant screen persona, may indeed be the wrong actor to enkindle much sympathy in an audience. The real Molly Bloom is evidently a tough cookie who once declared: "I'm very hard to kill." That may be true, but on the evidence of Sorkin's long, drawn-out investigation of that frustrated athlete's combination rite-of-passage/death wish, it's loads more fun spending time with creeps like Player X (Michael Cera) or Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong) than with poor, misunderstood jock Molly.

Molly’s Game
Directed by Aaron Sorkin. With Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba. Now playing.



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