Identifying with, or even merely having some experience of the world in which a story’s characters are moving, is not always essential – but it helps a lot. I love a hand of euchre, but have never sat in on any high-stakes games of poker – neither here nor Los Angeles and New York. And, to be frank, I don’t find that scene as glamorous as writer Aaron Sorkin does. With the screenplays of so many outstanding movies on his CV (Moneyball, The Social Network, Charlie Wilson’s War), Sorkin, in his debut as director, has taken the true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) as his subject. Denied a spot as a skier at a Winter Olympics by a career-ending accident, Bloom eventually found herself as the non-playing facilitator of the most exclusive games of poker on the West Coast. US law states that it would all be above board as long as she took no percentage from proceedings – ie, she made her fortune strictly through enormous tips. Until, that is, during one desperate session, she crossed that legal line and was later arrested. Sorkin relies heavily on Molly’s voice-over to thread his numerous time-jumps together and spends rather too much time at the table with the gamblers, all of whom are men (I found it boring after a while), thus paying more attention to Molly the cool and calculating operator and not the person. It is only when she is dealing one-on-one with her lawyer, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), that we get close to the woman herself. Sorkin also dips his toe into the filmy waters of popular psychology by drawing attention to the lasting impact that Molly’s disciplinarian father (Kevin Costner) had on her while none too subtly linking it with Jaffey’s strict overseeing of his own daughter’s education. As her defending counsel, Jaffey insisted that if Molly named names – screen and music celebrities, sports stars, government identities – her punishment would be lighter. But she stuck to her guns and refused. Interesting but instantly forgettable.
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