Molly's Game, B-
Rated R, 140 minutes
The compelling, well-acted new fact-based drama "Molly's Game" deals a winning hand. The film marks the feature directorial debut of Oscar-winning writer Aaron Sorkin of "The Social Network," who also pens the screenplay. Based on the true story of a woman who ran a high-stakes poker game, it's overly ambitious and goes on a little too long, but is grounded by a superb, Oscar-caliber turn from its lead actress.
The true story of Molly Bloom (Oscar-nominee Jessica Chastain, excellent here), a beautiful, young, Olympic-class skier who ran the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker game for a decade before being arrested in the middle of the night by 17 FBI agents wielding automatic weapons. Her players included Hollywood royalty, sports stars, business titans and finally, unbeknown to her, the Russian mob. Her only ally was her criminal defense lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba, also great), who learned there was much more to Molly than the tabloids led people to believe.
"Molly's Game" is an entertaining look at what happens when we get in over our head and let our emotions get the best of us. Directed and written by Sorkin, it's based on the real-life account of Molly Bloom and her nonfiction account of the story in "Molly's Game: From Hollywood's Elite to Wall Street's Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker." Chastain gives one of her career-best performances as the flawed yet brilliant woman who had the business smarts but ultimately made too many bad, costly decisions.
Sorkin's ambitious script weaves us in and out of Bloom's personal and professional life, and it's most fascinating when it sticks to the behind-the-scenes look at exclusive poker games such as this and the people who run. Sorkin, in his feature directorial debut, does a fine job, especially in getting a terrific performance from Chastain, but the story runs into a few uneven patches, chasing a few too many subplots and too many characters, both of which tend to bog down the film. Sorkin also tends to overuse an already overused cinematic element, the voice-over narration, which is unnecessary here instead of letting the story tell itself.
Still, even with its flaws, the compelling "Molly's Game" has the always-strong Chastain, not to mention Elba, who's solid here as her smart but opinionated attorney. Watch for Oscar-winner Kevin Costner as her estranged father, as well as Michael Cera ("Arrested Development") and Chris O'Dowd ("Loving Vincent") as a couple of key players in her story.
"Molly's Game" is a powerful, occasionally edgy and satisying look at one woman's rise and fall in the high-stakes business of exclusive poker games, and the lessons she learned. Much like Molly herself, it runs into some problems and the film is about 20 minutes too long, but it's worth seeing for the gritty turn from Chastain.