Wednesday, January 03, 2018

MOLLY'S GAME -- my review

If you love Aaron Sorkin – and I do – you should really be pleased with MOLLY’S GAME. If you don’t, see what else is playing.

But if you’re a fan, it was Sorkin porn.

In MOLLY’S GAME he wisely finds characters to write about who all have 175 IQ’s and that includes doormen. I do not see Aaron doing a reboot of GRAPES OF WRATH.

And this time, by directing the movie himself (a very impressive debut effort), you really get to hear the lines delivered exactly the way he intended.

There are some standard Sorkin tropes in this film. The lead is smarter than everyone else (185 IQ unlike the village idiots at 175), it’s a biopic of a real person, and there are daddy-daughter issues. (Even in MONEYBALL there were daddy-daughter issues. This topic must come up a lot in his therapy.)

Sorkin plays to his strengths and avoids his weaknesses in MOLLY’S GAME – notably there’s no budding romance. So we’re spared the “if you like her you have to tell her” recurring storyline.

And what you’re left with is crackling dialogue, an interesting world, and terrific performances by Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, and my favorite actor who no one's ever heard of but always steals every scene he’s ever in – Bill Camp.

The story, based on real life, is about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier hopeful who winds up running a super high-stakes poker game featuring Hollywood moguls and stars (who lose as much in one week as they pay out in a year for their sexual harassment settlements). Oh, and some Russian mafia guys also play. Borscht night. Molly gets arrested by 17 FBI agents and the movie is her struggle to clear her good name and stay out of prison for twenty years. But mostly to clear her own name.

If I had one quibble, it’s the same one I have in most Aaron Sorkin vehicles. I wish at times his films would slow down, give us a few moments to breathe and savor. The dialogue goes by so fast that you really have no time to appreciate it. And after awhile the relentless rapid pace gets fatiguing. The speeches are too good to whiz by so quickly.

There’s not a lot of the trademark Sorkin “walk and talk,” but there is “ski and talk.” And you might learn a little something about poker.

Kevin Costner appears as Molly's Jewish father who's a therapist.  Talk about miscasting?  YIKES. 

MOLLY’S GAME is rated B for Blue State.


Peter said...

I absolutely loved it and I'm gonna go back for a second helping. Jessica Chastain deserves an Oscar.

My only quibble was Idris Elba's American accent. He's a great actor but his American accent occasionally veers off and sounds a bit awkward.

Other than that, a brilliant film all round.

One observation. I'm sure Sorkin and his cinematographer had a pleasant time working on this movie, judging by the number of shots of Jessica Chastain's remarkable cleavage throughout.

Bill in Toronto said...

Ken, a Friday Q. You've written (passionately) about studio execs foisting their pet actors on pilots. You've also written about NBC searching desperately for vehicles for David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston, pre-"Friends". Now, I know Schwimmer and Aniston are talented and charismatic actors AND this was in the days of a well-managed NBC, but should credit be given to value add from the studios?

Bill said...

My complaint: the "one Yankee who everyone in America wants to play with" (or whatever the line was) at the time this all happened was unquestionably Derek Jeter. But apparently the real life Yankee at Molly's game was Alex Rodriguez, who is the one Yankee who everyone in America who wasn't a Yankee fan hated (and plenty of Yankees fans hated him too).

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Bill Camp is married to the very underrated actress, [but thankfully working] Elizabeth Marvel.

Brian said...

Is Sorkin going to respond to any comments today? 😜

For those wondering what I am saying, here's what you need to read:

Debra said...

Reading this about you and Sorkin right now

I don't like Sorkin's work that much. He comes across as smug and was rude in responding about your comments. Don't care much for this movie too.

Dhruv said...

I still remember it like it was yesterday. That's how good "A Few Good Men" was, when I first saw in late 1990s. Since then seen it a few times.

After that, Sorkin's name stayed in my mind for ever. I have seen him some times on Nat Geo programs talking about culture and stuff.

Later I tried to see his movies for the same intense drama like Few Good Men; but none were that good.

Recently there was the leaked emails where he was talking of teaming up with Tom Cruise. But nothing came of it.

Finally read in one of the comments here that his new movie will be his directorial debut. Was excited till I read what the story is about.

Not a great cast nor a story that I like.

And the time of the year when all these awards-consideration movies are rushed here (India) into theaters and this movie has no chance of releasing here. Just big names and their movies.

I wish he directs a movie like Few Good Men with a good cast, hopefully a court room drama.

And hope he releases it some other time than this season. But that's hoping too much, everyone wants awards, they don't care if the movie is seen or not.

Elf said...

Just saw the movie yesterday and loved it, but one quibble. I don't know if it was established in the movie or even real life that Molly and/or her father were Jewish. It only came up when the topic of inviting the Russian Jews to the game arose, and it easily could have been something she said to get them in the door. She seemed the type who could study for a night or two and pass for Jewish in any conversation.

blinky said...

I thought Sorkins biggest weirdness/failure was Live from the Sunset Strip. It was a show about a sketch comedy show but it wasn't funny. There was plenty of walking and talking but no laughs. It was cancelled in season one, meanwhile 30 Rock came out the same year and was a slow building hit.

Jeff said...

I guess Sorkin deliberately avoided “walk and talk" after being made fun of many, including Family Guy twice: Here's one of them. The other too was similar type of cutaway gag.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I know you aren't implying that the Joads are stupid, rather than uneducated. Are you?

How much should we read into the name Molly Bloom? Because Sorkin must have some big brass ones to appropriate from Joyce.

CopleyScott17 said...

Hi Ken,
Happy New Year!
Perhaps this is a Friday Question, but I was struck by this sentence in your review:
"And this time, by directing the movie himself (a very impressive debut effort), you really get to hear the lines delivered exactly the way he intended. "
When you're directing, do you routinely suggest or insist upon specific line readings? Perhaps if you're cast in a Sorkin or Levine vehicle, that would come with the territory. But it's been my experience (copywriting for TV and radio advertising) that actors kinda hate that.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Yes. But "A. Rod" gets to "do" Jennifer Lopez. That's got to count for something.

VincentS said...

Always a fan of Aaron Sorkin but not of his intellectual elitism.

E. Yarber said...

I also noticed the Molly Bloom naming, but figured it was inevitable given it was the actual name of the real-life lead. If Leopold Bloom could survive The Producers after two movies and a Broadway run, I suppose Sorkin too shall pass.

Green Luthor said...

@Buttermilk Sky : Don't read too much into the name. The movie was based on real events; the character is named Molly Bloom because the real person the movie was based on is named Molly Bloom. Unless her parents named her after the Joyce character, there's no connection there at all.

Larry V said...

@Buttermilk Sky: Molly Bloom is the real name of the woman this movie is based upon - so while Sorkin may indeed have some big brass ones (you're talking trumpets, I gather?) they have nothing to do with the name of the lead character in the movie.

The movie was a blast. Yeah, it does run a little long, but when we're talking about too much of a good thing, I don't mind. God knows it moved faster and felt a LOT shorter than the last Marvel movie I saw, which had a briefer run time.

I don't know if the real Molly Bloom and her dad are Jewish, but in the movie, their religious background is never emphasized. In fact, I'd say it's downplayed altogether. I'd be interested to know if that was a deliberate choice on Sorkin's part, but in any case, it didn't seem at all material to Costner's impact in the role. In fact, I thought his performance was impressive, given that he was tasked with unloading a not entirely plausible block of expository psychological mansplaining in his big scene with Chastain at the end, and the fact that he handled it as well as he did made that scene play much better than it might have. It was interesting to hear a naturally laconic actor deliver the Sorkinese, after two hours of rat-a-tat chatter from Chastain and Elba (deft as they were with it.)

Todd Everett said...

How much should we read into the name Molly Bloom? Because Sorkin must have some big brass ones to appropriate from Joyce.

Molly Bloom is the woman's real name; blame her parents. And the Joyce issue is addressed in the film.

Dr Loser said...

I'm (haphazardly) guessing that the Steinbeck reference was meant to attach to "Of Mice And Men," rather than the somewhat jarring reference to "Grapes of Wrath."

OTOH, I don't see why having a character called "Molly Bloom" necessarily implies a conscious effort to rip off either Joyce or Homer. (Which would be more of a Coen Brothers thing.) Part of me wishes that it were so, and that Sorkin had the courage to go to the source and name his protagonista "Norah Barnacle..." That should go down well with the average movie-goer these days.

Is there a spiffy stream-of-consciousness soliloquy in the eighteenth act?

Peter said...

Just four days to the comedy event of the year: Oprah's speech on receiving the Cecil B. DeMille award at the Golden Globes.

Ok ok, I know I've posted about her a lot, but after I've commented on her speech on Monday, I'll never mention her again. That is, unless she gets a Nobel prize.

Besides, my anti-Oprah comments are nothing compared to the vitriol that one reader has for Christopher Nolan. Sheesh! Dunkirk is just a movie, not a war crime!

Dr Loser said...

Nonsense. I've heard Oprah sing Nimrod. She was sublime!

You just don't recognise talent when it's in front of you, do you?

Astroboy said...

Yeah, Bill Camp is great, really first noticed his work in 'Tamara Drew' starring along with some of my favorite British actors, the great Roger Allam, Gemma Arterton, Tasmin Grieg plus others. Really looking forward to "Molly's Game." I like Sorkin because I don't feel I have to dumb myself down to get the most enjoyment out of the film.

Poochie said...

The Sorkin hate is so great, we have people chiding him for using someone's real life name.

E. Yarber said...

I don't see any hate in the question. If Sorkin wrote about a trio of friends named Holden Caulfield, James Bond and Groucho Marx, people would naturally ask questions. The original commenter was unaware of the reason the lead was named after a famous literary character.

Mel Brooks specifically referenced Joyce in The Producers. Zero Mosel, who played the other lead, was certainly aware of the source since he'd starred as the original Leopold Bloom on stage in "Ulysses in Nighttown." (One production with Mostel also featured Tommy Lee Jones as Stephen Dedalus and David Ogden Stiers as Buck Mulligan, by the way).

MikeN said...

> the movie is her struggle to clear her good name and stay out of prison for twenty years.

Do you mean that Sorkin's script is about Bloom's struggle, or that Molly Bloom had this movie made to clear her name?

> meant to attach to "Of Mice And Men," rather than the somewhat jarring reference to "Grapes of Wrath."

Nah. Read the previous posts. The Joads are a bunch of dumb Trump voters.
And note, even average intelligence isn't good enough for Sorkin.
David Kelley does this where to advance the plot all his criminals are legal experts.

Unknown said...

Not much to read into- the film is based on a real person named Molly Bloom. And yes, there is a James Joyce reference.

Laurie said...

Daddy-Daughter in “Steve Jobs” too.

David P said...

I so desperately want Oprah's GG to be presented by Uma Thurman... with a smirking image of David Letterman in the background.

Honest Ed said...


'One observation. I'm sure Sorkin and his cinematographer had a pleasant time working on this movie, judging by the number of shots of Jessica Chastain's remarkable cleavage throughout.'

His cinematographer was a woman!

cadavra said...

Re the comment about STUDIO 60: It wasn't funny because it wasn't supposed to be. It wasn't a comedy; it was a drama about comedy. See the difference?

Anonymous said...

The real Molly is Jewish on her father's side. She didn't make it up in the film.

MikeN said...

They mention James Joyce in the movie, after she says she's not Irish. Nevertheless, I have a hard time believing that Molly Dublin Bloom isn't Irish.