starring Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Michael Cera, Kevin Costner
screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, based on the memoir by Molly Bloom
directed by Aaron Sorkin
by Angelo Muredda You can thank anyone who came out of Steve Jobs yearning for Aaron Sorkin's take on a sociopathic female protagonist with quixotic interests for Molly's Game, the loquacious screenwriter/producer/playwright's rancid directorial debut. Apart from some questionable onscreen graphics and stats that turn the film's opening set-piece--a breakneck tour through the early history of subject Molly Bloom (not the one you're probably thinking of)--into a gaudy arcade game, Sorkin the director shows some rare restraint, playing some seriously-overwritten material straight. That isn't to say he's an especially promising filmmaker, only that he mostly stays out of his cast's way as actors like Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba stomp through mic-drop punchlines about money--Wall Street bro fist-pumpers like "I had just made three thousand dollars in one night"--and hyper-stylized speeches that tell us what their maestro really thinks about feminism, gossip, and overcharging prosecutors.
Despite the ostensible POV shift from his usual blustery Zuckerberg, Jobs, and Will McAvoy types to a cooler, savvier Erin Brockovich (played by Chastain more as a computational device than a real person), Sorkin plants himself firmly on familiar territory, whose soil has by now gone rotten. For all the big chunks of text she gets to fly through, some of them reasonably entertaining, Chastain's Bloom still finds herself being comically glossed by male characters at every turn, from a dirtbag old employer who tells her to "lose the superior air" to her own psychoanalyst father (Kevin Costner), who explains, largely in earnest, that her real addiction has never been to drugs but to having power over powerful men. (This is only the second funniest line in this scene, after Costner's humblebrag that he somehow managed to raise three children on a college professor's salary.)
And while Sorkin has never been better than in his reality-adjacent stab at the Zuckerberg lawsuits, here he can't excavate a compelling story out of seemingly juicier material, falling back on increasingly phony and misplaced bouts of Capra-esque fantasy logic. Consider the film's inexplicable fixation on Bloom's refusal to turn over a hard drive with nasty emails that could, for some unstated reason that probably has something to do with Sorkin's own supporting role in the Sony leaks, "ruin people's lives," or Jaffey's baffling claim that he's taken on this case because Bloom is a hero to his black intellectual daughter, an ivy league-bound senator in the making (save her apparently insatiable desire for tabloid gossip about white entrepreneurs). Molly's Game is an unconvincing, aggressively overdetermined character study that tells us less than its more concise wiki equivalent. Programme: Special Presentations