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Laramie Movie Scope: Molly's Game

Fast, smart, sexy, talky high stakes poker

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 22, 2017 – Hollywood provides few good roles for women, but “Molly's Game” is an exception. Jessica Chastain (“Miss Sloane”) gets a Bette Davis kind of role as troubled gambling guru Molly Bloom and she burns up the screen with an incendiary performance.

I mention Bette Davis here because this is a throwback movie, fast, smart, sexy, with quick, snappy dialog (written by director Aaron Sorkin, based on Molly Bloom's book). This is like those old Katherine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy movies with fast-talking, smart characters who can talk their way into and out of trouble in the blink of an eye.

This is a long, talky movie at two hours and 20 minutes, but it goes by in a blink because of its race car pace. There is a fast setup, too, with flashback scenes of Molly competing for a freestyle skiing event in the U.S. Olympic trials. The difficult relationship between Molly and her father, Larry (played by Kevin Kostner) is brought up early, but there are more references to this throughout the movie, setting up a big payoff scene.

The fast setup skips deftly ahead and continues right up to the point where Molly, through her real estate employer, Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong of “The Big Short”) discovers the world of high stakes underground celebrity poker. She quickly learns the game and is soon making more in tips during the weekly game than she does all week in her two day jobs.

Molly outmaneuvers her boss and sets up her own high stakes poker game at a posh California hotel with the help of a movie star, called “Player X” in the movie (Michael Cera of “This is the End”). Cera seems to be playing himself in this movie, but, according to Wikipedia, Cera is not the real Player X. I'll leave it at that. Things go along fairly smooth until Player X decides Molly is making too much money and wants to change the arrangement. An argument ensues and Molly is cast out, just like that.

Molly bounces right back and sets up another high stakes poker game in New York, with the aid of some smart Playboy Bunnies. Once again, she is riding high, right up until the time an FBI informant steers her into some contacts with Russian mobsters and she gets tangled in a racketeering web. The scene where she is arrested in a totally ridiculous overkill FBI raid, actually comes early in the movie. Events leading up to her arrest are told in many flashback scenes.

The most interesting scenes in the movie are between Molly and her lawyer, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba of “The Mountain Between Us”). The fast, smart, dizzying verbal dance between these two characters is the kind seldom heard in movies these days. Joining these two on screen in Jaffey's office is Jaffey's daughter, Stella (Whitney Peak) who manages to work Arthur Miller's play “The Crucible” into the story, dialogue from which is quoted later in the film.

Not only is there mention of “The Crucible,” but also James Joyce's “Ulysses,” in which the original famous Molly Bloom appears, the fictional wife of the book's main character, Leopold Bloom. In case you hadn't guessed, this is a writer's movie, a celebration of words, literature and dialogue. Writer Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) a first time director, makes full use of his writing talent in this film.

Sorkin's screenplay deftly dances back and forth in time from Molly's childhood, to her teen years, and to various points in her adventures with gambling. The film's emotional climax comes late in the film in a confrontation between Molly and her father on a park bench in Manhattan. Molly's emotional demons are laid bare by her father, a psychologist. This scene is both powerful and subtle, beautifully written and acted.

Molly comes across as a smart, driven, powerful, yet vulnerable and flawed character in this film. The working relationship between her and Charlie Jaffey is beautifully constructed. These two characters come across as well matched in the film. The supporting characters are also strong. Bill Camp (“Midnight Special”) gives a great performances as Harlan Eustice, a card player who goes off the deep end one night. Chris O'Dowd (“Calvary”) gives a good performance as Douglas Downey, a poker player who is not what he seems to be.

Although this film makes Molly look somewhat heroic, her flaws are also fairly obvious. This movie probably doesn't reflect the truth about Molly, but that isn't the point of it at all. This is a story about how difficult it is for a woman to get ahead in America. This is a smart, expertly-written and directed movie with some great performances. This is one of the best films of the year. It rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2017 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]