Aaron Sorkin’s ‘Molly’s Game’ could have done with a lot less talking

This image released by STXfilms shows Idris Elba, left, and Jessica Chastain in a scene from, "Molly's Game." (Michael Gibson/STXfilms via AP) NYET626
This image released by STXfilms shows Idris Elba, left, and Jessica Chastain in a scene from, "Molly's Game." (Michael Gibson/STXfilms via AP) NYET626
Published December 22 2017
Updated December 22 2017

After an acclaimed career writing for the stage and screen, Aaron Sorkin makes his directing debut with Molly’s Game. The result is an audiobook with pictures, a true story told almost entirely in voiceover, each character and motivation described more clearly than depicted.

The narrator is Jessica Chastain speaking for Molly Bloom, a former world-class skier running high roller poker games until the FBI barges in. The linguistic combination of gambling jargon and legalese is catnip for Sorkin, whose movie is sometimes inspiring to hear and always obvious to watch.

At times, Molly’s Game is an interesting tale of greed on the fly and gaudy manipulation. Bloom’s clients include movie stars, start-up moguls, pro athletes and foreign dignitaries, most of whom she refused to identify in interrogations or her bestselling book.

"You finished the book before the good part," says her defense attorney Charlie Jaffey, played by Idris Elba. He’s wrong as far as this movie goes.

Anything after the book involves Elba’s character and much of his material is Sorkin in fevered eloquence mode. A closed-door convo with prosecutors sounds like five minutes of polished summation to a jury. Elba is a constant mouthpiece for Sorkin’s admiration of Bloom, either declaring it or lobbing softball questions for which Chastain smashes back answers.

Molly’s Game is more entertaining in anecdotal doses, since Sorkin isn’t revealing much about Bloom other than her professionalism. She doesn’t date clients, but we see two suckers trying. She’s a capitalist with a heart, offering lessons to a bad player. Molly’s game is legit until she "rakes" pieces of the pots, then a regular (Chris O’Dowd) introduces new players from the Russian mob.

O’Dowd’s character, a drunken hanger-on, is among a handful of characters vaguely interesting to Sorkin. Another is Michael Cera as "Player X," an actor, assumed to be Tobey Maguire, whose gambling habit stretches Molly’s patience. Most effective is Bill Camp as a fine poker player personally destroyed in one hand by purely dumb luck.

There’s also a fine turn by Kevin Costner as Molly’s father, although you won’t know until late in the movie. He’s there earlier, almost negligibly, to set up a tidy piece of psychoanalysis Sorkin whipped up, that could end the movie but there’s more wordsmithery to perform. Any director not enslaved to the script could tell this story in 30 minutes less. Bet on it.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365.
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