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Molly’s Game

Year: 2017
Production Co: STX Entertainment
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Producer: Mark Gordon/Amy Pascal/Matt Jackson
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Michael Cera, Kevin Costner, Chris O'Dowd

I'd watch Jessica Chastain read a phone book, and if Aaron Sorkin wrote and directed a version of the phone book so much the better. There's something about her that's so undeniably feminine and sexy, but nothing about the roles she chooses telegraph female points of view or distinctly female stories – she always plays a person who just happens to be a woman, apparently very clever about spotting that quality in scripts.

Here she plays the true life figure of Molly Bloom, a woman with a very unconventional life who (as Sorkin tells it) turns out to have more principles than anyone else around her. And like the best stories it's a fairy tale, a rags to riches story where life turns on the smallest coincidence or twist of fate.

She moves to Los Angeles and becomes a cocktail waitress in a club after an accident cuts short her ski jumping career, and it's there she meets the failing real estate developer who offers her a job organising his office. Among Molly's duties are the management of his weekly poker game, one attended by the rich and famous.

Unwittingly she learns the ropes, so when he cuts her off she strikes out on her own, soon presiding over an underground poker empire for some of the richest playboys in the world, the finances of which dwarf her old gig. The movie's partly about how society views women, and the men who attend her game consider her anything from a bank or a potential lover, the bitterness that results when she has the audacity to show them right from wrong seeing one of their most powerful number cut her off at the knees.

Undeterred and with a swag of new skills under her belt, Molly moves to New York to start again with rich Wall Street types, and before long she's big enough to gain the attention of various crime Mobs who put her in the orbits of some dangerous people.

When things start to get serious (a mobster forces his way into her apartment and threatens her life one awful night), it doesn't seem like things can get any worse. But Molly is barely back out in the world when the FBI kicks her door in, thanks to one of her regulars ratting her out in a sting.

Molly's whole story plays out in non-linear form, the framing device that tells it (along with Chastain's voiceover) when she approaches a lawyer to defend her, Charlie (Idris Elba). Charlie claims he doesn't want a bar of it, but he becomes increasingly fascinated with Molly's story as he reads her memoir, sure she'd be able to get a lighter sentence if she names names for the court she doesn't in the book in exchange for leniency.

Molly stands firm, wanting to protect people who's lives will be affected or destroyed and who she doesn't think deserve it, and Charlie tries to fashion a defence without the ace he knows Molly holds.

There are a few subtextual undercurrents like Molly's relationship with her father (Kevin Costner), but mostly the appeal is in the crackerjack dialogue Sorkin is known for. Coming from an actress who seems as smart as she is stunning like Chastain, it'd be a pleasure to watch even if it wasn't a great movie.

There are a few scripting and directorial flourishes, like the fractured chronology, but mostly it's proof that watching actors play interesting people who don't speak down to the audience trumps any visual effect or outer space battle sequence every time.

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