If you choose to take a bet on Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s debut Molly’s Game, be prepared to learn that the odds are not in your favour. Might as well splash your £15 cinema ticket on the slots, there’s probably more chance you’ll come out one up.
From writer-director Aaron Sorkin, Molly’s Game follows the whirlwind life of ‘poker princess’ Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain). Having been arrested by the FBI, Bloom relives her rise (or descent depending on which way you look at it) from Olympic athlete material, to cocktail waitress, to assistant to a poker king pin-come-actor, and finally to high-stakes poker game runner for the world’s elite actors, sportspeople, businesspeople and, of course, the Russians.
It’s a tale of excess, excess and more excess, and it’s one that audiences have become used to in the past few years. From The Wolf of Wall Street to The Big Short, it’s clear that in Hollywood, money still talks. However, after the glut comes the purge, and the false glamour of wealth seems to be falling on deaf ears.
What Molly’s Game fails to recognise is that being rich doesn’t make you interesting in itself, and spending hundreds of thousands of pounds doesn’t qualify you as an interesting character. Characters need development, and not even the central protagonist of the film is awarded that. Where Jordan Belfort’s life fell apart at the hands of drink, drugs and gambling, Molly’s only seems to get more glamorous. Her serious addiction to a wealth of substances is brushed under the rug and given only a fleeting look. There is not one character in the film that had anything resembling an interesting facet, not one character that was probed for weaknesses and flaws, not one that warranted conversation on leaving the cinema.
That’s not to say that Jessica Chastain is not an impressive actor. She floats around the screen with ease, and her air as Molly Bloom is one of quiet confidence in her own abilities. It’s a shame that her character is so fundamentally unlikeable. There’s little to cling on to in her personality that makes her eventual comeuppance even remotely relieving. Idris Elba, too, is little more than an underdeveloped sidekick as lawyer Charlie Jaffey. Save for an impassioned speech, his relationship with his daughter is rushed and of little consequence, and his own motivations for wanting to help Molly fumbled out in a quick courtroom set-piece that revolves around the swapping of chairs. Even Michael Cera as Player X is boring and given such poor dialogue so as to render him instantly forgettable.
Molly’s Game is too long. At almost two and a half hours, it could have finished almost an hour earlier – or around the time when her ‘daddy issues’ begin to be explored in the third quarter of the film. Larry Bloom (Kevin Costner) bookends the film in what can only be described as a cringeworthy final act in which he ‘shrinks’ his daughter by a New York ice rink having been out of her life for several years. He’s only outdone in ick factor by her monologue come the end of the film that smacks of a quick tie up when the budget ran out and the studio were under pressure not to get to two hours thirty.
The major problem with Molly’s Game, however, is that you needn’t go to see the film at all. If they’d had released it as a radio play or podcast it would have worked just as well, since Bloom narrates the entire story, from start to finish. Every movement is commented on, as if the audience were too thick to see what was going on for themselves. Every poker reference animated, The Big Short-style, every interaction painstakingly explained.
The one saving grace is that they didn’t throw in a romance or sex scene to spruce up the narrative, instead relying on Bloom to carry the story. Unfortunately, that doesn’t last, since her narrative is driven by the stories of the men that dictate her life, and ultimately come to shape it. Molly Bloom should have been portrayed as the smart, ambitious and multifaceted businesswoman she is. It’s a shame that the spend, spend, spend story she gets instead is quite so dull, dull, dull.
Molly’s Game is released in the UK on 26 December.