Susan Granger’s review of “Molly’s Game” (STX Films)
Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty,” “Miss Sloane”) is sensational as the Colorado-born skier who became America’s poker princess.
After years of training to become world freestyle champion, Molly Bloom (Chastain) tripped on a twig at the Olympic trials, resulting in a severe back injury that curtailed her competitive skiing.
Needing money to attend law school, Molly begins working part-time for a guy who runs a weekly high-stakes poker game in Los Angeles. Although her job pays barely the minimum wage, the players are such big tippers that entrepreneurial Molly, having learned the intricacies of the game, decides to go into business for herself.
Eventually, her multi-million-dollar poker empire expands to Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel, where she’s so successful that, instead of exclusive, once-a-week games, she begins to host them every night. That leads to hiring a bevy of glamorous female assistants who can attract even richer gamblers – and a troubling alcohol/drug habit.
Molly’s celebrity clientele includes stockbrokers, hedge fund managers and movie stars; Michael Cera plays a character allegedly based on Tobey Maguire/Ben Affleck.
More than a few men fall in love with her. Easy to understand since elusive Molly is really empathetic with players like “Bad Brad” (Brian D’Arcy James), who has no idea how to bluff yet continually rakes it in, and Harlan (Bill Camp), who sinks deeper and deeper into debt.
Not surprisingly, word reaches the Feds, who bring Molly in on suspicion of colluding with members of the Russian Mafia. That’s when Molly turns to defense attorney Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba).
Making his directorial debut, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network,” “Moneyball,” “Steve Jobs”), adapting Molly Bloom’s 2014 memoir, jumbles the timeline, beginning with Molly’s childhood, then the court case, followed by more backstory revelations.
Sorkin glibly blames Molly’s penchant for self-destructive peccadillos on her incessantly demanding, tough-love psychologist father (Kevin Costner), culminating in a pivotal reconciliation scene in which he supplies “all the answers.”
If you enjoy gambling movies, search out “Rounders” (1998), “Oceans 11” (2001) and “The Sting” (1995).
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Molly’s Game” is a precise, precarious 7, a fast-paced biopic filled with sharp zingers.