Jessica Chastain is typically superb in a fascinating but flawed biopic, from Aaron Sorkin
Although she's revisiting old ground in Molly's Game, Jessica Chastain freshens it up enough to make this just about worth your while. As in Miss Sloane, Chastain plays a woman who is better than she seems, one who rises above her dubious profession, just as the actress effortlessly transcends the sometimes misjudged material.
Based on the memoir of competitive skier turned 'poker princess' Molly Bloom, the film marks the directorial debut of wonder scribe Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network). Unfolding in flashback following an FBI raid which ties her, possibly erroneously, to the Russian Mafia, it shows how Molly picks herself up after a career-ending sports injury and postpones her entry into law school to dabble in the arena of high-stakes poker, where she eventually establishes and oversees the world's most exclusive game.
Rocking a mob-wife-style sartorial shtick that apparently makes her the 'Cinemax version' of herself, but the epitome of respectability otherwise, Molly should be hard to wrap your head around. Yet women are no less contradictory than men, they are just seldom allowed to be onscreen, and this is undoubtedly a fascinating story. Molly butts heads with her male associates, for whom her success is an affront, especially as she refuses to sleep with them, while the attempts to control and intimidate her – by her first boss (Jeremy Strong), by Player X (Michael Cera), and by organised criminals – only make her more determined. She may be in a bad business but she's fiercely protective of her good name.
We learn as much about poker as our protagonist in a film that's undisciplined and indulgent and that therefore runs a little long. Much can be forgiven due to its razzle-dazzle and the sheer pleasure of listening to Sorkin's target-obliterating dialogue – dialogue which Chastain and Idris Elba (playing Molly's lawyer) manage to make sound natural.
Lamentably, the feminist slant is undermined by the script's dispiriting preoccupation with Molly's daddy issues, a problem compounded when her father Larry (Kevin Costner) pops up to deliver a potted psychological assessment as events come to a head. The sight of a twinkly-eyed Costner dispensing hot chocolate whilst imparting patronising pearls of wisdom is unwelcome in a film that should still be cheered for putting a dysfunctional yet dignified female at the fore.
General release from Mon 1 Jan.