Jessica Chastain plays Molly Bloom, a one-time Olympic class skier sidelined by injury. Leaving the slopes behind she found her way into the world of high stakes poker but not as a player, as a purveyor. In Los Angeles and then again in New York she cultivated a guest list of rich and powerful men of movie stars, Russian mobsters and Wall Street hedge funders. They bet, lost (and sometimes won) millions of dollars, catered to by drink slinging models and Bloom’s huge line of credit. With the game come wealth, drug addiction and ultimately, an FBI arrest for a variety of charges. Money seized, drug addiction kicked, all the Poker Queen has left is her integrity and a supportive criminal defense lawyer in the form of Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba).
Written by ninety-words-a-minute screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (who also directed), coats the unlikely tale of a dedicated athlete who uses the dedication an skill she developed in her sport to create a new life for herself with an elegant sheen. The dialogue is top notch, the performances very good but it’s all surface. The psychology—her father (Kevin Costner) is a pontificating psychologist—doesn’t provide the kind of depth we need to truly care about Molly, before or after her downfall. She’s all ambition and little else. Chastain breathes life into her, rattling off Sorkin’s impressive dialogue, ripe with pop culture references, mythology and bon mots, but it’s the performance that illuminates the character for the audience, not the script.
Sorkin doesn’t exactly deal “Molly’s Game” a bad hand but he does bog down the story with clever asides and details instead of moving the plot forward. Aside from Bloom, his characters are all sharp-tongued creations whose personalities are become increasingly interchangeable as the same Sorkin-esque style of witty dialogue spills from all their lips.
In many ways “Molly’s Game” overplays its hand. It’s neither a searing indictment of high-stakes illegal gambling nor a psychological study of its main character. Instead it’s a pair of deuces when it should have been a full house.