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AFI Fest Review: Molly’s Game – The Female Goodfellas

Jessica Chastain in Molly's Game
Jessica Chastain rules the poker tables in Molly’s Game

Like The Social Network and Moneyball, Aaron Sorkin makes another complicated scenario engaging and understandable. Well, Molly’s Game Is much easier to understand than Moneyball. If Henry Hill was a Goodfella, would Molly Bloom be a Goodgal?

After an Olympic injury, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) aims to go to law school. But in her first legal job, she helps run a private poker game for Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong). When Dean fires her, she takes the players with her and builds her own poker empire.

Sorkin breezes through the particulars of everything from skiing to Hold ‘Em to the mechanics of Bloom’s operation. There are some fast photo montages and inserts to illustrate the language.

Those are just the particulars though. The real story of Molly’s Game is that someone as smart as Bloom will always find a way to run things. Doesn’t have to be a law firm. If it’s poker, she’ll take over that. Lesson to the Dean Keiths of the world: don’t fire the person in charge of all your day to day.

Molly's Game - Jessica Chastain
Jessica Chastain makes the rules in Molly’s Game

Bloom gets ideas to find players just from the bar she tended one night a week. Certainly when Keith thinks he can do it without her, he doesn’t even have the foresight to realize she has all his contacts.

She keeps it legal, for a while, by not taking a rake from the hands. As long as she’s not taking a cut, she’s not facilitating gambling in CA. She just takes tips, which are plentiful from clientele who throw money around.

She is playing a dangerous game with dangerous guys and it escalates. Figure anyone whose addiction needs a high stakes underground poker game comes with some risk attached. Otherwise they’d get their fix online or at Commerce Casino just outside LA.

Some players cheat and she has to be tough on them. Bloom tries to save her clients from themselves if she can. Married men who fall for her are not only harassing her, but if she rats them out she loses their business too.

Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in Molly's Game
Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in Molly’s Game

For the poker fans, there are some genuinely exciting poker hands, some good poker intimidation, and Sorkin captures the anti-circadian feeling of time passing in overnight games. The ambiguous celebrity Player X (Michael Cera) will have you wondering who Bloom’s real Player X was. I sorta hope it was actually Cera.

We know from the beginning of the movie and the true story that Bloom gets busted at the end. She hires Charles Jaffey (Idris Elba) to represent her and their scenes together have the most Sorkin-esque banter. A debate about Bloom’s hard drives presses the back and forth, and their climactic confrontation pays off the fact that Jaffey’s daughter was reading The Crucible earlier.

Kevin Costner and Jessica Chastain in Molly's Game
Kevin Costner plays Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain)’s father in Molly’s Game

Young Bloom debating Freud with her father (Kevin Costner) at the dinner table is also Sorkiny, though I have no doubt the real Bloom was smart enough to see through Freud at that age. Daddy issues are a subplot for Bloom, with perhaps too easy an answer, but if it’s based on her book this may have been the conclusion she really came to.

I don’t underestimate how fewer female driven crime stories there are compared to men. Molly’s Game certainly gives Bloom the same treatment the Henry Hills of the world get. Maybe one day someone will learn the lesson from all these movies and stop building criminal empires, but everyone thinks they’re the ones who’ll keep it under control. Their hubris is cinema’s gain.

Molly’s Game opens in select theaters Christmas Day and everywhere January 5.

Fred Topel has been a journalist since 1999. Over the decades he’s written for About.com, Hollywood.com, CraveOnline, Rotten Tomatoes and Slashfilm. Fred brings Monsters and... read more

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