“This is a true story, but except for my own, I’ve changed all the names and I’ve done my best to obscure identities for reasons that’ll become clear.”
Directed by Aaron Sorkin, Molly’s Game centers on the real-life memoirs of Molly Bloom, the “poker princess” who rubbed shoulders with Hollywood’s elite while hosting underground games in the basement of clubs and at the homes of her wealthy clients. It’s a poker movie that appeals to the masses, and while the action often takes place at the tables, it’s Molly’s life that is the focal point of the film.
Released in December 2017, Molly’s Game is a story of feminine power and ruthless intelligence, and any viewer who didn’t know better would think they were watching complete fiction. But director Sorkin, who won an Academy Award for directing The Social Network, as well as being well-known for screenwriting plays such as A Few Good Men, sticks closely to Bloom’s memoirs, in addition to drawing on his interviews. What we get is as close to an accurate account of Molly Bloom’s life, and even the seemingly sensationalized moments involving death threats from Russian mobsters draw right from Bloom’s own accounts.
Poker fans will see some action on the felt. There have been many memorable moments in TV and film that feature poker, with the game used to add tension and suspense between characters. Molly’s Game makes natural use of this, but the thicker and richer elements of the plot take place during flashbacks of Molly’s past, her run-ins with the FBI and her legendary conversations with her lawyer Charlie Jaffrey, played by Idris Elba.
As such, Molly’s Game is an intensely dialogue-driven affair, which won’t be to everyone’s taste. It’s involving and demanding of the audience. You will need to follow the dialogues, often for 10 minutes at a time, to derive pleasure from watching the film, and though there are moments of pure action, they are few and far between. In a way, this film could well have been a book. It “reads” well, yet sometimes, it lacks pace, and this is only accentuated by the near-continuous flashbacks.
Thankfully, director Sorkin knits the story together well with sound and images, and Molly’s Game works well enough to earn it favorable reviews of 82 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but the real saving grace is the casting. Jessica Chastain takes up the lead role, and she does so with style and finesse, convincingly portraying a strong and confident Molly with plenty of presence and much-needed authority. Given that the film follows the story of Molly’s memoirs, Chastain’s intelligent performance is the highlight of the film, and without it, we may well have seen a total flop of a movie.
The storyline, as mentioned, stays close to the real life of Molly Bloom, and yet given the extraordinary nature of Bloom’s life, there is never a dull moment. Bloom was once a competitive skier, who became a cocktail waitress at the Viper Room (called the Cobra Lounge in real life) after sustaining an injury. It was at this club that she became host to the most exclusive underground poker games in the USA, with many A-list celebrities in attendance, and millions of dollars in bets flying around. She made a killing from tips, and after disputes with the owner, moved on to start an events company, hosting her games in hotels and private homes.
In 2013, Molly was arrested after the FBI caught on to one of her client’s Ponzi schemes, and she faced charges that amounted to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $1.5 million. With the help of her lawyer, Jaffrey, Molly pleaded guilty to lesser charges and secured a much more lenient sentence of only one year in prison and 200 hours of community service as well as a $200,000 fine that she didn’t end up paying. I mean, you couldn’t write this stuff! Molly’s Game, for all its flaws, brings us an entertaining film based closely on a true story. It’s gripping, exciting and refreshing.