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ON FILM: ‘Molly’s Game,’ portrait of a high stakes life

Molly's Game is the story of a charming, adaptable, ambitious woman with brilliant math and organizational skills and an omnivorous ability to learn new things.

Molly Bloom, the name of the protagonist in Aaron Sorkin’s new movie, Molly’s Game, and Molly Bloom, her real life model was an Olympics-class mogul skier dogged by spectacular physical disasters. So Molly’s Game must be a sport’s movie. Well, not quite.

Molly Bloom ran one of the most sought-after, high stakes private poker games in history, which crashed when, finally persuaded that being her game’s “bank” was financially insupportable, she “raked” the game after years of being scrupulously legal. The FBI, which had been watching her, closed in, confiscated her money and arrested her in the middle of the night. So Molly’s Game must be a poker movie, or a movie about selective government prosecution. Not entirely.

Molly’s Game is the story of a charming, adaptable, ambitious woman with brilliant math and organizational skills and an omnivorous ability to learn new things, who looks marvelous in deep décolletage. She’s a gorgeous original, but that’s only part, though a very entertaining part of the picture.

Aaron Sorkin wrote the script for Molly’s Game, adapting it from Molly Bloom’s original memoir of the same name. And no surprise, what seems to most fascinate Sorkin is Molly’s stubborn insistence that she not save what was left of her financial and professional life by exposing in her book the names of some very bad men. Why would this Twenty-first Century Molly Bloom do that? Because the exposure of those men could lead to the destruction of innocent people attached to them.

Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom with her lawyer, played by Idris Elba.

One of the film’s pleasures is witnessing the considerable talents of Jessica Chastain as Molly squaring off against Idris Elba, who ably plays her ensorcelled but increasingly frustrated lawyer. She recounts the tale in nearly dispassionate voiceover as well as appropriately passionate live action. Molly is no stranger to being bullied by men. It’s a morality play that flashes by like a thriller.

Only one scene seems somehow misplaced in its position in the narrative. Although played pitch-perfectly between Molly and her psychologist father acted by Kevin Costner, it stops the action to finally ask the question “why.” Why would a woman with so many things going for her, run a poker game?

I won’t write a spoiler, and it’s notable that her father’s theory may or may not capture the whole truth. It’s also notable that someone who had every right to curse her luck from the age of thirteen, did not become a person who would be callous toward other innocents, but seemed to have short-changed herself. For my money, this scene should be at the end.

Molly’s Game is that most basic and tangled story: a family tale. When confronted by the question of how many female Olympians have powerful, over-bearing fathers, Molly gives the stock answer: “All of them.” But if you think that’s the final answer, you’re wrong. Molly’s Game is quite a ride, and the images and ethical questions it brings up stick with you.

See trailer below, and click here for show times and tickets at The Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield, Mass.:


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