" Alvin, a native has wandered into my frame "
— John Malkovich, Shadow of the Vampire

MRQE Top Critic

9

Nifty production design, a cinematic sensibility, but not quite a classic —Matt Anderson (review...)

Stitchpunk 9 is the most refined

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Molly’s Game is music to the ears — it’s the music of crackling-good dialogue delivered by a spectrum of colorful personalities.

Stick It

Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) and Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba)
Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) and Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba)

This one gets off to a rather breathtaking start. That sensation has nothing to do with expensive computer-generated visual effects. There are no explosions. It’s not even the visuals of stunning landscapes.

It’s all about one woman talking about her past in a brisk, engaging fashion. It’s an exquisitely aggressive, non-stop voiceover by one Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty). The words are crisp and the situations she finds herself in are — to say the least — high stakes.

Molly Bloom. The name might sound familiar. Back in the ’90s and the “aughts” she was a freestyle skier with eyes on Olympic gold. She grew up in Loveland, Colo., and went to the University of Colorado in Boulder. Her dad, Larry (Kevin Costner, Field of Dreams), was a therapist and a psych professor at Colorado State University.

Larry was a pusher, of sorts. While growing up, a pre-teen Molly would get tired of the incessant, pressure-packed drills on the slopes. After a fall, Dad’s comforting words would be along the lines of, “Tough it out.”

All of that is back story for a girl with lots of brains and a fiery spirit. Even as a teenager, she trusted no one (thanks in large part to Dad) and she didn’t have anyone to call a hero. If she executed her own life plan flawlessly, she asserted, she’d become her own hero.

Overall, Molly’s Game has nothing to do with skiing, but it does have everything to do with going for the gold. Molly’s Game is Bloom’s autobiographical account of becoming the biggest poker game runner in the world. In one year, she raked in (no pun intended) $4.7 million. But it wasn’t meant to last.

No more than those dreams of Olympic gold, dreams shattered when she crashed spectacularly on the slopes. And all she did was trip on a stick.

Worst Place

There’s plenty of inspiration to be found in Molly’s story. It’s the inspiration of staying true to one’s self and — above all — persevering. Against all odds.

As Molly notes, Jesse Owens reigned supreme during the infamous 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. In second place was a guy named Mack Robinson. He missed gold by a mere 4/10 of a second and that relegated him to asterisk status in the history books. Owens got the gold and the limelight. It didn’t help Mack that his younger brother was Jackie, who would go on to become the legendary number 42 of baseball.

Ultimately though, as Molly puts it, nothing’s worse than finishing fourth in the Olympics. And that’s essentially where she was when she found herself looking from the ground up, barely able to move and in need of all sorts of metal — in her back, not around her neck.

Poker Princess

After running games for 10 years in Los Angeles and New York, Molly put it all behind her, including the drugs she needed to stay awake during her brutally-paced lifestyle. But her past would catch up with her two years later, when the FBI came knocking and her life came crashing down for a second time.

Molly stuck to her guns during this period, which started with a day her legal counsel, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba, The Mountain Between Us), dubbed “Black Friday for lawyers,” a “GPS takedown” involving 31 arrests and 600 agents.

Those arrests included some big names in show business and sports, as well as cultural luminaries and others from — much darker — parts of the world. But Molly rose above it all, against the advice of book publishers (not “bookies”) and lawyers. It was an ethical choice in an already criminally-tainted storyline, but she stood her ground and refused to name names not already named by others of lesser character.

It was an expensive stance. What could’ve been a book advance in excess of $1 million was whittled down to a mere $35,000.

Royal Flush

Consider Molly’s Game as a moviemaking clinic staged by Chastain and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, famed for writing The Social Network and co-writing Moneyball. With Molly’s Game, he makes his directorial debut and proves he was paying attention while sitting on the sidelines.

Like Moneyball — and The Big ShortMolly’s Game deals with a lot of cerebral notions but it finds a through-line and a style that make the material sing. And it finds a key hook in its characters. Some are intransigently ethical, others are innovative. In some regards, Molly and Billy Beane are both. Then there are those quirky people who make life interesting, if not downright dangerous.

In Molly’s world, that includes all sorts of people who shouldn’t be trusted. There’s the world’s worst poker player, but he’s really playing the players and making money his own way, which ain’t legal. There’s the guy who doesn’t like playing poker; his motivation is destroying other people’s lives. And there’s the kook who brings a $7 million Monet to a game for collateral.

In this world Molly leaves behind, lives are destroyed and rebuilt as nothing more than part of the game. There’s an odd comfort to be had in watching those with exorbitant wealth live foolishly and endanger their good things — their homes, their pricey cars, their loved ones.

In the end, it’s character that’ll reign supreme. And having lived a life worth talking about, it’s clear Molly will continue to come up aces, no matter the odds.