When master screenwriters like Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) turn their hand to directing, often the initial scepticism revolves around their natural habits to focus on substance over style. However with Molly’s Game, Sorkin has opted to create a biopic of Olympic-class skier turned high-stakes poker game runner Molly Bloom, and the end result is an assured directorial debut that one can easily compare to such films as Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.
Whilst working with a Sorkin script is gold-dust for any actor, the astounding central performance from Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom is the catalyst for taking this from being a potentially average biopic to a impactful one. Chastain captures every element of Bloom perfectly, from her almost limitless knowledge and fiery tenacity to her darker, drug-fuelled days of dissociation with the world, and it’s easy to see why she’s been nominated for a Golden Globe and could potentially score an Oscar nomination despite a stunningly strong category this year, a testament to her obvious talent. Not once in the film does her delivery of Sorkin’s script feel unnatural, and her on-screen chemistry with co-stars Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera and Chris O’Dowd further makes this performance stand out, as she essentially carries the whole story on her more than capable shoulders without faltering once.
Where many look at Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street as some kind of hero, in truth he was a piece of sh*t, something that despite her horrendous drug addiction, Chastain and Sorkin never allow Molly Bloom to appear as anything other than a hard-working inspiration, especially to young girls wanting to carve their own path in life. Despite the severity of the charges against Bloom in relation to the Russian Mafia, there isn’t really a moment that the viewer can question Molly’s integrity and see her as guilty, and though of course biopics always paint the desired picture of the protagonist early on, it’s further credit to Chastain and how her performance solely influences the way the viewer thinks about Bloom that results in a powerful performance of the highest quality.
An assured yet safe directorial debut
As is always the case with Sorkin, the script for this film is of exceptional quality, from razor-sharp one-liners to drunken outbursts and monologues, each line is expertly written and delivered excellently. On the other hand, Sorkin fails to truly test his directorial limits, something first time directors can be excused for, however with someone as experienced as Sorkin one would expect a few gambles. There’s few technical marvels, something that really could have pushed this film into a truly overall awards worthy picture. Its cinematography is relatively par for the course and there isn’t much in terms of sound or a score that really stands out upon viewing, although one technical highlight would be the editing, something that captures the relentless intensity of the world of high-stakes poker and combines it with Molly’s own personal struggles to always keep the viewer on the edge of their seat.
Perhaps Sorkin’s best directorial accomplishment within this film lies within its almost perfect pacing. Clocking in at a lengthy 2 hours and 20 minutes, one would be forgiven for losing interest in a film that is almost entirely set at lavish poker games and law offices, yet somehow the film never really strays from it’s rather blistering intensity. The lengthy runtime is forgotten about as Molly’s story plays out, with each twist and turn more welcome than the previous, and its ending is sudden but wholly satisfying, an achievement many films of this length simply fail to accomplish.
Though there’s still a lot left to be desired technically, there’s no doubt that thanks to a stunning lead performance from Jessica Chastain, a typically brilliant, well-paced script from Sorkin and some impressive editing, that this biopic manages to stay interesting throughout and not get bogged down in contextualising an intricate and complex story. Sorkin could have certainly attempted to direct with a more outside-the-box style and should have really pushed the technical elements further, but nonetheless this is certainly an exciting biopic that’s worth the watch.
Words by Elliott Jones