Throughout his career screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The Social Network) has established himself as probably the premiere scribe working in Hollywood today. Like a Stephen Sondheim musical you can identify a Sorkin penned film almost immediately. There is a telling pace (fast!) and word selection that is quintessentially Sorkin. It is not unusual for Sorkin characters to go off on lengthy monologues which involve vocabulary that most of us don’t use. Here he has taken on a true story. The story of Olympic hopeful downhill skier Molly Bloom. Right off the hop you think this is not you typical Sorkin subject matter. When you find out he also decided to make this his directorial debut the intrigue level goes up exponentially.
When you learn more about Molly’s story as a woman after tragedy pulled herself up by her own bootstraps using just her own wits to go on to become a millionaire you can see the attraction. She lived out the American dream. There is that oh so appealing aspect of rise-and-fall involved. In other words, everything about this story was perfect for the big screen.
Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain – Lawless, The Help), who at the age of 20 crashed out wildly at her chance to make the U.S. Olympic ski team, is a young woman not really sure of her future. Coming from a family of overachievers, she is a bright young woman who has no idea what to do with her life. Against her father’s (Kevin Costner – The Bodyguard, Dances with Wolves) wishes, she picks up and moves from Vermont to California. With precious little money to her name, Molly is sleeping on a friend’s couch while working as a drink girl in a club. Through that job she meets Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong – The Big Short, The Judge), who hires her as his office assistant. That job does not play well but it does mean she also is brought in to the organization of his weekly high stakes poker games.
The weekly poker games involve several high profile Hollywood actors and directors including actor X (Michael Cera – Superbad, Juno). Through players tipping her, Molly begins to make a bit of money. Realizing she can run games herself, Molly breaks away from Dean by poaching X from him and starts organizing games of her own. Organizing nightly games in Los Angeles and then, after a disagreement with X, in New York, Molly is pulling in lots of money making her a millionaire.
The success comes at a price as she finds herself addicted to drugs and attracts the attention of several mafia groups – Italian and Russian. One beats her up when she refuses to work with them while the other gets her arrested by the FBI. The government wants her to add some “colour” to their case against the Russians. What they don’t know is that Molly, against the wishes and pleadings of her lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba – The Mountain Between Us, Star Trek Beyond), will not give up even so much as the names of the men who played at her games. A woman of principle. Not at all like the media is painting her.
Speaking of perfect, the casting of Jessica Chastain in the titular role was a no-brainer. She is the foundation, in more ways than one, of everything that happens here. Though she has never looked more tiny in stature she is huge in regards to amount of scenes she is in (all of them, pretty much) and dialogue she had to learn. If ever there was a woman born to recite dialogue written by Sorkin it is this red head. Also, in her previous films she has demonstrated the ability to portray hard ass, emotionally inaccessible women. Admittedly this is not her best performance, it most certainly cements her as one of the best actresses working today.
Hers is not the only strong performance as Idris Elba demonstrates himself to be a great scene sharer. His Charlie stands toe to toe with Molly, something not many characters show themselves capable of in the film. Charismatic as ever, Elba is totally credible as the lawyer who is not shady in the least. The chemistry between the two zings from their first moments onscreen together. Repartee abounds. It is a relationship that is (eventually) founded upon mutual respect.
The public and the private. Especially in this day of social media, the difference between the public’s perception and reality can be miles apart. Especially when it comes to women. Doubly true for women in non-traditional roles. This is an interesting aspect of the film. How the media has portrayed this self-made woman and who she actually is.
Being a self-made, unbending woman ties into the whole feminist aspect of the film. Molly is a woman who has been told either verbally or through the behaviour of others that she has not place in this man’s world. This is a woman who is going to win by her own rules. Not be subjugated by men. Not be intimidated. Despite the fact that she dresses well and is nice to the men, Molly does not engage in sex or relationships in order to get ahead. She actually avoids it. Not having to answer to anyone else, gives her a freedom not many women ever achieve.
Aaron Sorkin’s directing debut has to be chalked up as mostly successful. His style as a director is as precise as his language, so that meshes well. It is complex because Molly is a complex character and what she went through was not exactly straightforward. I am sure this will not be Sorkin’s last time as a director.
No film is perfect, so this one does have a few faults. The film was a little too long at two hours and 20 minutes, but as this is Sorkin it should not really come as any surprise. As for the ending, yes it is a little cheesy, but all in all satisfying.
-Building an Empire