Friday, 5 January 2018

PLAYING WITH FIRE: Molly’s Game raises the stakes with intense, edge-of-your-seat drama and razor-sharp acting

ALL IN: Chastain gives a dynamite performance in the high-stakes drama, based on real-life events.

FOR my money, Molly Bloom has had one of the most fascinating trajectories in human history. A life destined for the movies. You can’t make this stuff up. She went from being a teenage smarty-pants from a well-to-do family to Olympic skier to cocktail waitress to poker princess rubbing shoulders with Hollywood elite and some of the richest people in America. Then it all came crashing down. She gets beats up by the Russian mob, loses all her money and is eventually arrested by the FBI for operating an illegal gambling operation.

Her story gets a riveting cinematic treatment in the action-packed drama Molly’s Game, with Jessica Chastain giving a bruising performance as the embattled Miss Bloom, who learns the hard way that you never mix business with pleasure – and life’s unexpected twists and turns can knock the wind out of your sails.

The film is an adaptation of Bloom’s memoir of the same title, written for the screen and directed by Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), who employs non-linear storytelling in sharing the details of Bloom’s troubled life.

So in the beginning we learn that she had been diagnosed with scoliosis and suffered a terrible fall while competing at the Olympics, a disastrous end to her sports career. But then we are introduced to the stern father (Kevin Costner), who grooms her for excellence and then disapproves of her choices. Following the Olympics exit, we leapfrog 12 years ahead to meet the smooth, shrewd lawyer (Idris Elba) who comes to her aid when the FBI investigation intensifies and lands in court.

Along the way we see how she became Molly Bloom, poker princess and tabloid fixture. She learns the tricks of the trade from a playboy who hires her as his assistant, shows her the ropes and subsequently fires her when business hits a snag. After the fallout, she decides to start her own clandestine poker nights. It was Molly’s game now. She attracts influential power players and big spenders, like the enigmatic Player X (Michael Cera), who may have had a hand in kick-starting the chain of events that led to Molly’s downfall.

The plot jumps all over the place, but that actually does more harm than good, because the backstory becomes essential and Sorkin’s style forces you to pay close attention, as the intriguing series of events unfolds. 

After turns in big hits like The Help, Zero Dark Thirty and inhabiting a host of roles that alternately play off her luminous beauty and keen ability to transform, Chastain gives one of her most nuanced performances here, humanizing a young woman who many will readily dismiss a brazen and arrogant and reckless, but who I prefer to see as ambitious and courageous. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+

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