There are certain creative people that just hit us right between the eyes. They speak to us. While not everything that a specific creative person does appeals to that person’s fans, generally speaking, the fans are more geared to enjoy the work that person creates. For some people, it may be painting, and others may be spoken to by architecture, writing, sculpture, directing, acting, the list goes on.
For most people of my generation, Steven Spielberg is very much a director like that. Maybe Empire of the Sun and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull were not in your wheelhouse, but you cant imagine a world without ET, Jurassic Park, and Schindler’s List. I currently work with someone who feels that everything that Quentin Tarantino touches is gold. I am a huge fan of both Spielberg and Tarantino, but they each have certain projects that they have been connected to that speak to me more than others.
Spielberg and Hitchcock are two of my personal creative idols. I would also put Cameron Crowe, John Sayles, and Rob Thomas (not the musician) also very high on my list. But, the talent that speaks to me first and foremost is writing. As a book author, Stephen King tops my list. But the current writing talent who creates both film and television who speaks to me most is Aaron Sorkin.
I was on my mission in France when A Few Good Men came out, but it was one of the first films that I saw when I got home and I loved it! A courtroom drama with such amazing, crackling dialogue is definitely something I can appreciate!
I didn’t know this until a couple of years ago, but I actually heard Sorkin dialogue on my first day back in theaters after my mission. Since A Few Good Men was so widely loved, for a few years, Sorkin worked as a script doctor on many huge hit films in the mid ‘90’s and, looking back on it, it is quite obvious to hear Sorkin dialogue in Spielberg’s aforementioned Jurassic Park. If you’re a Sorkin fan, think about it. Most everything out of Goldblum’s mouth was probably reworked by Sorkin in some way.
Aaron Sorkin went on to write the film The American President (the less said about Malice the better, except for Baldwin’s ‘I am God’ speech) and Michael Douglas’ blistering speech at the end of that film made me take notice of who wrote that film.
I tuned into the TV show SportsNight for 2 reasons- it was written by the guy who wrote The American President and it was right after Michael J Fox’s show Spin City, so I only had to elongate the taping time to catch SportsNight anyway. So I did. Even though I didn’t (and still don’t) care about sports. But ABC’s advertising called SportsNight a “Tv show about sports the same way that Charlie’s Angels was about law enforcement”. Even though it took 22 minutes for Casey McCall to come out of his funk from his recent divorce to do a cold tease about their upcoming show, I was basically a goner after a studio technician was asked to ensure that Helsinki was in Sweden and Dan Rydell responded with, “Yea, we think there’s a pretty good chance!” But, especially after SportsNight’s second episode where Dan had to give an on-air apology about an interview he gave and he ended up apologizing to his dead brother for mistakes made in his past, that I realized that Sorkin could tackle issues, comedy, and drama in even measure.
Sorkin would go on to write 2 seasons of SportsNight, the first 4 seasons of The West Wing, 1 season of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (and, while still having its share of problems, a show I feel is much better than 30 Rock), 3 seasons of The Newsroom (whose opening scene is a constant Facebook meme), along with the scripts for Charlie Wilson’s War, Bulworth, he co-scripted Moneyball, wrote Steve Jobs (the Michael Fassbender version NOT the Ashton Kutcher version), and The Social Network (whose opening scene of dropping you right into the middle of an argument and expecting you to keep up is still my favorite thing ever written for the screen).
By this point of me explaining my adoration for all things Sorkin, you will pretty much be able to tell that I went into Molly’s Game extremely biased and also, if it will be your cup of tea or not.
Molly’s Game is based on the true story of Molly Bloom who, after flaming out in grand style during the final qualifying mogul skiing run before the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics, ends up going to Los Angeles, working for a real estate broker and running that broker’s weekly poker games. In real life, these games included such stars as Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey McGuire, Todd Phillips, A-Rod, and many more. Molly ended up taking over this game, and, after leaving Los Angeles and moving to New York, starting up her own game at an even higher price and running the highest priced private poker games in the nation. Until she ran into trouble with the law by crossing a small line and getting into trouble with the Federal Government.
Molly’s Game, using Sorkin’s trademark back-and-forth style starts his film with the ski trial, then with Molly getting arrested, then flashbacks to explain how she got where she was, and continuing a forward motion story of Molly with her lawyer and how she is trying to stay out of prison while keeping her dignity. Sorkin (also directing for his first time) jumps out of the gate and never slows down. He expects you to keep up for the entire 2 hour and 20 minute runtime.
Sorkin is known for using very fast paced dialogue to explain hard to explain things in a very compact way, but also while using high aptitude language. In order to speak Sorkinese, an actor has to be of a very high caliber to ensure that the words placed in their mouths come out flowing instead of tripping and dribbling. This is why I have had to rethink my initial impressions of Matthew Perry, Jesse Eisenberg, Brad Pitt, and Jonah Hill.
Luckily, Molly’s Game is lead by Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba. They are high quality actors who feel comfortable with Sorkin’s words in their mouths and it sounds right coming from them. Normally, near the end of a Sorkin script, one character gets to use all the bombast at their disposal to make large declarative statements that sum up the themes of the story. Idris Elba gets that chance here and he does it in a very non-bombastic way, but it works perfectly and gets the point across just as powerfully.
Chastain is always powerful on screen and solidifies it here. Having read the book written by the real Molly Bloom, Chastain puts the attitude of the real Bloom in her performance and, mixed with Sorkin’s dialogue, gives a, perhaps, career high performance. Elba keeps up with her in every way. His role is more to pull the exposition for the audience out of Molly and he gives a fascinatingly strong, even performance. Where many actors could have blustered their way through it, Elba subtly nudges the audience through the emotions and the case, and gets the quiet moments of power. Chastain’s is the showy role, but Elba’s is the solid rock that she can bounce off.
As a first time director, it is easy to see that Sorkin studied the people who have directed his previous scripts and used some of their tricks to keep the camera and the forward motion of the picture moving while the dialogue keeps going at a breakneck pace. There are several times where one can see an exact directoral lift from SportsNight’s own poker episode ‘Shoe Money Tonight’. Other times, you can see a camera angle that David Fincher would have used in Social Network. Yet, Sorkin makes it his own and keeps the movie’s pace humming right along. He doesn’t get in his own way. He trusted Chastain and the film’s costume designer to choose clothing that looks expensive and sexy, yet never in a sexualized way. In a year which could be called The Year of the Woman, a very strong female story and performance is guided by a man who trusts the women around him.
If you are not a Sorkin fan, this film will not change your mind. In fact, to paraphrase Spinal Tap, How much more Sorkin could it be? None. None more Sorkin. But, if you are a fan, or even intrigued a little bit by this story, give it a shot.
Molly’s Game is as much about poker as SportsNight was about sports and Charlie’s Angels was about law enforcement. Even if you don’t know a straight from a Royal Flush, I would recommend that you give this film a whirl and jump right in.
Living in St George, this film was only playing for 2 weeks and I only got to see it twice. As of this moment, it is my favorite film of the year 2017. I still have a lot of films that I still need to see from 2017, but I do not see Molly’s Game falling that far down my list, no matter what. I will definitely be watching Molly’s Game many, many more times throughout this year and the rest of my life. But, I am an obsessive Sorkin fan, and that is just part of what I do.
Molly’s Game is a tour de force of acting and writing, and many times in a film, that’s what captivates me- a character and an actor portraying that character’s emotions through a well written script. There are no explosions in Molly’s Game, and it couldn’t be called an action film by any stretch of the imagination, but it shows you just how breathless words and actors can make an audience.
Film rating- 10/10
Movie rating- 10/10