Hot Take: Another great showcase for Jessica Chastain… even if they might have started resembling each other.
Last year, Jessica Chastain starred in Miss Sloane. Personally, I thought she should have been nominated for her performance but didn’t think it was going to happen because the film wasn’t critically acclaimed. She carried that film and elevated it from good to very good (almost great) status with her performance alone. At the time, John Madden’s Miss Sloane was occasionally referred to as “Sorkin-esque” albeit written by Jonathan Perera and directed by John Madden. So, this year’s Chastain entry to Awards season feels a lot like last year’s entry as Chastain carries much of the film as the titular character in Molly’s Game (although she gets more help from supporting cast member Idris Elba than anyone who appeared in Miss Sloane) and this year’s movie is actually written and directed (in his directorial debut) by Aaron Sorkin.
Based on the true story of Molly Bloom (whom Chastain portrays in the film), Molly’s Game takes us into the world of underground poker rooms in Los Angeles and then New York featuring high profile actors, athletes, business titans and eventually, Russian mobsters. Molly was an Olympic athlete from a family of successful siblings (her one brother Jeremy was a World Champion skier and played football for the Philadelphia Eagles and her other brother Jordan is a Harvard surgeon) and a father (Kevin Costner) who pushed her hard. The film starts out with her arrest by 17 FBI agents with rifles and shotguns in the middle of the night for running a high stakes underground poker game. Broke and desperate but wanting to fight to clear her name, Bloom goes to see lawyers to pick up her case. She finally convinces Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) to take her on as a client despite the fact she has no money and was being buried in the tabloids.
Essentially, if you saw Miss Sloane last year, you get more of the same from Chastain this year. That’s not a bad thing in the least as she shreds whatever role is put in front of her. (Molly was an Olympic skier, shred is positive here… okay, maybe it’s not the best reference in the world. Whatever.) The Sorkin effect on the film is evident, too. If you were to watch Miss Sloane and Molly’s Game side by side, you’d be able to tell the genuine article over the knock-off as Molly’s Game is crisper, has better dialogue and that signature pulse that Sorkin’s words seem to find. Sorkin’s novice skills as a director do also shine through as he feels like he’s trying to emulate some of the better contemporary directors (tell me you don’t see a little Oliver Stone) rather than establish his own identity. The film also stumbles in the third act but still feels like a brisk 2 hour and 20 minutes and recovers when sticking the landing thanks to a scene stealing Sorkin-crafted speech from Elba that delivers the cherry on top of the sundae as the film reaches its climax.
If you’re a fan of Chastain, Elba or Sorkin, this film should be on your radar. Sorkin’s typical manipulation of the truth (see The Social Network, Moneyball or Steve Jobs) isn’t as evident here. In fact checking the film’s events, this is closer to the truth than any Sorkin film to previously hit the big screen. Chastain, again, should be considered for an Academy Award nomination but will likely not make the cut. Elba could also get some consideration for supporting actor and Sorkin is always in the running for a Screenplay nod. The film itself isn’t Best Picture material but there’s enough going for it to make it worthy of a look see.
Chastain… But not just Chastain this time. She gets a lot of support from co-star Elba and writer/director Sorkin to elevate this film.
It feels an awful lot like Miss Sloane and you’re not a fan of deja vu. (Not the Denzel Washington film, either.)