Disclaimer: I love Aaron Sorkin. I love the fast-paced dialogue and the righteousness of his characters. I even love how unrealistic his scenarios are, even when they are based on true stories. I particularly love his shows (The Newsroom being a particular favourite, despite its many defects). If not a great filmmaker, at least he is a fantastic writer.
Molly’s Game has a lot of the Aaron Sorkin brand going for it, but ultimately, the film doesn’t quite work. It feels overly long and many times, the story just isn’t that compelling. Occasionally Sorkin over explains poker (going into detail about which hand is a winning hand), while simultaneously underexplaining the lingo, which can be annoying. But all of this wouldn’t matter if I’d fallen in love with the characters or with the story. Sadly, by the end of the film, I’m not entirely sure whether I like the main character or not. Of course, likeability shouldn’t matter that much, but the fact is, Molly Bloom leaves me cold. I don’t particularly like her or dislike her. I think she is being prosecuted for no good reason, but even then, I don’t feel that strongly that she shouldn’t be prosecuted. Usually Sorkin is really good at showing me why a character is right or wrong, or why I should feel for them (or making me feel for them when I know I shouldn’t). In his latest film, everything feels slightly too clinical for me to feel anything at all. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the film. It was a pleasant couple of hours, the film just didn’t really stay with me.
There’s also the issue with the film’s length and its pacing. Because the film is being told as a series of flashbacks, there’s a constant need to come back to the present. And the present, the conversations between Molly Bloom and her lawyer, are not that interesting. It’s not clear to me why Idris Elba’s character changes his mind about representing her. It’s not clear to me why he so passionately defends her, when he knows for a fact that she is guilty (even if what she is guilty of is minor). It’s not clear to me why he doesn’t drop her as a client when she repeatedly refuses to accept his advice and pleads not guilty. It’s also not clear to me why I’m being told about the legal process. I feel like it’s just a way to make the film longer, rather than there being a solid, story-telling reason for the flashbacks.
On the other hand, I enjoyed the acting. I love both Chastain and Elba, and thought they worked well together, even if occasionally the Sorkin’s need for word-perfect dialog seems to get in the way of their natural acting. I also thoroughly enjoyed the aesthetics of the film, despite the fact that they contribute to the film feeling clinical.
Molly’s Game was an interesting watch, and I genuinely think it could have been a very fun film, if there had been a little bit more character development or if the film had had a faster pacing. In any case, I’m almost glad that a single stick on the ground made Molly Bloom lose one of her skis and miss her chance at competing in the Olympics. The way that part of the story is told, that’s good filmmaking.