Molly’s Game: Jessica Chastain does yellow-pack Scorsese

Aaron Sorkin’s debut film isn’t going to get as many Oscar nominations as predicted

Molly's Game
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Director: Aaron Sorkin
Cert: 15A
Genre: Drama
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba
Running Time: 2 hrs 20 mins

With his directorial debut, Aaron Sorkin is here to prove that middle-brow American cinema is not always about men and their daddy issues. Not always. Sometimes it’s about women and their daddy issues.

Throw this sort of quality at the screen – Chastain, Elba, Sorkin – and you're bound to deliver the odd lark and the odd chortle. Sure enough, Molly's Game passes the time better than most films that aren't going to get as many Oscar nominations as they hoped. But, for a film about transgression, it's awfully tame.

The flop lays out a true story. The deliciously named Molly Bloom (appropriately, it is Chris O'Dowd who eventually makes the Joycean connection) is a former competitive skier who went on to run high-stakes poker games in Los Angeles and New York. Much money came her way before she eventually attracted the attention of the law.

The film runs well over two hours, but in truth there isn't a lot more to the plot than that. Jessica Chastain, who can swagger like the best of them, wears clothes like weapons as she powers her way towards the capitalist dream. Michael Cera is oily as a celebrity player whose real-life inspiration can be found with a few clicks of the mouse.


The main emotional surge comes from Molly’s relationship with a dad (Kevin Costner) who, like most dads in such pictures, is prepared to push and undermine his kid only until he spots end credits looming over the horizon. There are, you see, reasons why people do unfortunate things. Daddy made me a good criminal.

Most of the action is taken up with yellow-pack Scorsese moves and bouts of Sorkin’s patent verbal tennis. Some people love this I Can’t Believe It’s Not Mamet. Others find the style mannered to the point of torture. Even fans will surely admit that Sorkin is not at the top of his game here. Does Elba – playing to the upper circle throughout – really say: “I was in a hole so deep I could go fracking.” I fear he does.

Still, there’s enough surface class to keep the tolerant interested. You’ll want to see the river card.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist