11 December 2018
A film by Aaron Sorkin
reviewed by Adam McCormack
Star rating: ****
It takes just a frozen twig to change the course of someone’s life. Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) would appear to be the golden child. Born into a high achieving family in Denver, academically brilliant and on the cusp of the US Olympic ski team, everything changes when she has a freak accident in the trials. In an effort to escape an overbearing and pushy father she postpones starting at law school and finds herself helping to run a high-stakes poker game for the rich and famous. Smart Molly quickly realizes that the rewards of setting up her own game and proceeds to do so. She (initially) takes great care to make sure all aspects are legal, and pays her taxes. What then could go wrong?
The problems start when the game gets too big. The introduction of wealthy Russians means that she is running too much short-term risk by financing the pot, which she tries to mitigate by taking part of it for herself – the first illegal move. The second issue comes with not checking the source of the funds being gambled (money laundering is highly likely) and this is compounded by the need to take copious amounts of illegal substances to get through a poker night. Inevitably the FBI comes calling. On the trail of an organised crime network, they are after bigger fish than Molly. The question is – will she supply names and details in return for immunity?
This is a true story of how a young woman succeeded in a very male domain, only to be confronted by a major moral dilemma. Writer-director Aaron Sorkin has a script that crackles with the wit and pathos you would expect from the man that wrote The West Wing, and trying to work out just who the famous poker players are is compelling (particularly as many of them are not good players). Ms. Chastain is perfect in the role of Molly and Idris Elba, while delivering a performance that sits well within previous roles rather than expanding his repertoire, is very convincing as Bloom’s reluctant lawyer – with an interesting parallel drawn between his driving of his teenage daughter and that of Bloom’s father (Kevin Costner). There is little wrong with Costner’s cameo role, but a short-fire psychotherapy session is perhaps introduced in too contrived a manner. Nevertheless, this is a film that never ceases to engage and entertain and the fact that it is based around poker should not discourage those who know little about it, for Molly’s game is something much bigger.