If you like to see what happen if you threw The Social Network and the Wolf of Wall Street together and the base it on the person running the poker game in Casino Royale then you will probably like this.
- Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, Moneyball, Steve Jobs)
- Directed by Aaron Sorkin (Directorial Debut)
- Starring Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, The Help, Intersellar) and Idris Elba (the Thor franchise, Star Trek Beyond, the Mountain Between us)
- Budget of $30m
My initial thoughts
What an enjoyable film to open Cinema Club 2018 with. Written by the extremely talented Aaron Sorkin who seems to have a knack of producing great screenplays from books (The Social Network, Steve Jobs), this fast-paced film also doubles up as his directorial debut.
The ‘ccc’ review
Based on the true story of Molly Bloom (which makes the events of the film even more astounding), it takes you through Molly’s journey from promising skier at the US trials for the Winter Olympics to how she rose to prominence in running some of the biggest private poker games for the rich and famous, and her subsequent arrest by the FBI – don’t worry, I haven’t given the whole film away, you are pretty much hit with all of this in the first 5 minutes of the film.
The film sprints out of the blocks as fast as Molly’s first career as a slalom skier. By the time the opening credits finish, you will be “Yeah, I’m gonna love this film” – my opinion did not changed by the end credits.
The audience is hand held throughout the film by the narration of Molly and Sorkin’s visuals – you won’t have to google what the “nuts” means in poker terms, we get told everything. From the opening act, you feel like you are being dragged by Sorkin, but you don’t mind as you are thrilled by the quick interplay between the characters which is where this film strengths lie. The only time the film is allowed to breathe is in Idris’ lawyer office, but even then you are treated to a game of smart-quick lines tennis between Elba and Chastain.
The film glides through her young years and the factors that shaped her which is brought back full circle at the end. The steps are quickly laid out as to how she came running her own game. Sorkin does a great job of presenting the life of private poker players – being an ex poker-dealer myself, it certainly reminded me of the various players that used to play (the fish, the rock and just the bad – I am probably the latter). Apparently many of the extras playing poker players were real players, as Sorkin wanted to make it as real as possible, and most earnt more in poker earnings than the $90 per day as an extra.
The film runs out of a bit of steam towards the end and you find yourself more interested in the actual poker game and the players it attracts rather than Molly’s own personal journey. You don’t leave the cinema feeling much empathy about the characters, and this will probably be the main reason you won’t see it near the Best Film awards at the Oscars.
But this shouldn’t distract from the performances of Jessica Chastain (as Molly) and Idris Elba (as the lawyer defending her). Chastain puts on a brilliant performance as a person who wanted to win in a male dominated world. She carries the film, partly armed with Sorkins screenplay, and delivers every line every time – as she tells the players, they love her because she is the anti-wife. Even in the rare moments of fragility Chastain makes you believe her struggles (it’s a shame that this wasn’t delved deeper). She is supported by a strong performance by Elba who provides a great folly to Chastain, and even if the dialogue is not one expected from a lawyer, he delivers each smart line with the typical Elba charm. The fact that Elba and Chastain only had 10 days to shoot their scenes (because of scheduling issues), only elevates their performances and demonstrates how hugely talented they both are. Kevin Costner plays Molly’s demanding father well and Michael Cera turn as the devious Player X is also entertaining.
What are my final Thoughts
Honestly, I can hardly remember the soundtrack or got a chance to really appreciate the cinematography. But this is probably more a credit to the script and the actors delivery and there isn’t too much I would have left on the editing room floor. For a film with a running time in excess of two hours, you are kept entertained for the most part of it and it leaves you wanting to find out more (I googled to see who Player X was and you will be surprised). Even though I probably laughed out loud once (mainly because I got the giggles with a fellow cinema club member), I was smiling throughout.
🎥😀 Highly recommended to everyone