Molly’s Game (2017)
A film does not need a message to be meaningful, but it can feel lightweight without one. Even a big-name star and a brisk plotline provides little weight in a story about illicit money and a gambling queen’s efforts to keep ahead of the law. That, in essence, is the plotline of Molly’s Game (2017), a fast-moving tale that struggles to say anything of value.
Based on real events and published in her 2014 memoir, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) was a world-class skier whose Olympic aspirations were shattered through injury. An overbearing father and over-achieving brothers means that failure is not an option, so Molly finds her way into the company of a high-stakes gambling den operator. She becomes the den manager and glamour bait for high-profile and high-wealth players. The intricacies of poker playing become interwoven with the narrative, and we see in detail gaming rules and techniques that few will have heard of. Molly is super-bright and learns quickly, making enough money to set up her own luxury-class den in opposition. Her success and notoriety draw the FBI and the Russian mafia into her orbit, and she faces prison after publishing a tell-all book. With the help of top lawyer Charlie Jeffrey (Idris Elba) she fights to restore her seized assets.
If the film was fictional, you could read it as a high-stakes thriller, a feminist tale, or a hustler’s mockumentary. However, as it is based on Molly Bloom’s real career, it becomes a voyeuristic expose of the seedy world of illicit gambling, money laundering and racketeering that is inhabited by the rich and famous. What is not clear is why this film was made at all. For those interested in professional poker, it no doubt has much to offer. Molly’s character has few redeeming qualities except being smart and ambitious, and she outshines every male around her. She is also clinically ruthless and emotionally distant, making her character difficult to embrace. Chastain plays all these characteristics to perfection.
Finding a worthwhile message in this film is a challenge. Perhaps it’s about a woman’s mastery of a man’s world, using both brains and conspicuous sexuality. Or perhaps it is found in the film’s closing minutes when, with condescending masculine authority, Molly’s lawyer says “you’re my daughter’s role model, and I’m OK with that”. He may be; many are not.
Director: Aaron Sorken
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba