A Seat at the Table (Film Review: “Molly’s Game”)

SnapShot Plot

Jessica Chastain shines in Molly’s Game, the film adaptation written and directed by Aaron Sorkin from the memoir by Molly Bloom, detailing how she became an FBI target after single-handedly creating the most prestigious ultra private poker game in history.

The movie begins in voice-over, with Molly (Chastain) narrating her rise in the sport of Women’s Downhill Skiing, coached by her imperious taskmaster father, played by Kevin Costner. After a crushing series of incidents forces her to abandon the sport forever, she finds herself adrift and seeking a warm weather lifestyle as removed from the snow and ice as possible. She starts over in Los Angeles and takes a job as a personal assistant to a repulsive misogynistic ass with a nasty gambling habit, who hosts a weekly private poker game that has attracted some of the most powerful men in Hollywood. Molly starts ‘running’ the game, learns the ropes, and quickly realizes there’s major money to be made in the world of high stakes poker.

Before long, she finds herself on the wrong side of her boss and crisscrosses the country to New York City, where she becomes the queen of the most sought-after high stakes poker game in the world. And strange as it may seem, Molly Bloom took painstaking efforts to run a clean game for as long as she could. Unfortunately, it was the repugnant natures of the men with whom she had to deal – as well as the Russian mob – that finally implicated her criminally. But even when the FBI pressed charges against her, she stuck to a code of ethics that confounded everyone with whom she came in contact, most notably her attorney, played with intelligent ferocity by Idris Elba.

Parting Shot

You can see why the memoir, “Molly’s Game” proved so enticing to the likes of Aaron Sorkin. In Molly Bloom we have a fiercely intelligent and competitive young woman who, by her sheer wits alone, managed to create a one-woman gambling legacy that no one has even come close to replicating. In Sorkin’s reliably quick-witted dialogue, the script crackles with intelligence, irony and sarcasm. Chastain is impeccable: strong yet vulnerable, moral yet savvy. The conflicts within her character – especially as they relate to her complicated relationship with her father – are matched by the morally conflicted situations of her clients who have more money than sense. It’s only a matter of time before the stink begins to rub off on others.

An interesting throughline in the film, as exemplified in Molly’s dynamic with her attorney’s daughter, is the iconic play by Arthur Miller, The Crucible. Presumably about the Salem Witch Trials, the symbolic subtext of the play is really about the ability of human beings to become so mesmerized by the cult of personality, power or persuasion that they abandon their ‘better angels’ and pretend that what they previously knew was real is, in fact, a lie. What Miller probably had in mind was the McCarthy era Hollywood Black List, which ruined many lives and shined an ugly light into the mindset of a certain American ethos that had long simmered under the surface of our society. But in Molly’s Game, references to “The Crucible” keep coming up in clever and interesting examples. Without giving it away, toward the climactic courtroom scene before which her attorney tries to ‘sell’ Molly on a legal strategy he knows she’s not going to like, she quotes one of the most rousing monologues in the play, having to do with the meaning of a ‘name’. It’s a perfect moment that encapsulates the entire moral arc of a character. Breathtaking, in fact. A perfect hand.

Molly’s Game is presently streaming on Netflix.

Norma’s Streaming Picks is proud to partner on a fantastic site for Baby Boomers, Midcentury/Modern (presently known as Pandemic Diaries) as well as right here at home. I invite you to go there for more great content!

YouTube Trailer

2 Comments

  • Bill says:

    The Atlantic magazine Oct 2020 selected Molly’s Game as one of 25 Feel-Good Films You’ll Want to Watch Again—and Again

    • Norma says:

      Thanks for putting me in such expert company as The Atlantic, Bill! Although I’m not sure I’d put this film in a ‘feel-good’ category, it sure was an involving watch. Appreciate your feedback. . . keep ’em coming!

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