Molly’s Game (****) shows Chastain at her best

mollys-game

Molly’s Game – 2017

Written and Directed by Aaron Sorkin
Starring  Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O’Dowd, Bill Camp, Graham Greene, Jeremy Strong, Whitney Peak

If there is an actress I enjoy more than Jessica Chastain, I can’t recall. She won me over when she took the role of Samantha LaForche in Take Shelter. Her ability to add layers of nuance to typical emotions always manage to strike a chord. That she takes the reins of the first film that Aaron Sorkin ever directs is not a huge surprise. She displays the ability to nail both the pace and the ferocity of Sorkin’s prose like she had borne it herself. More than this, I enjoy her ability to show the strength and vulnerability required for one to absorb that someone can do things that might not seem legal, but that does not define them as bad. Not necessarily.

Molly Bloom is a near miss Olympic skier who decides to forego her father’s wishes of a college career and instead falls in with an underground gambling game in Hollywood. Eventually this becomes a high stakes affair that brings her into the scope of the Federal Government. The story jumps back and forth in the timeline, but mostly plays along with the running conversations she has with her lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Elba).

Their chemistry is real and immediate. We see parallels in each of their lives. Jaffey’s is with his daughter, Stella (Peak), for whom he assigns extra homework assignments on stuff that tough parents would. Upon seeing this, Molly flinches. It reminds her of days when her father would cajole her into one more practice run on the slopes rather than using the synonym he insists she give him for “tired.” That’s “weak,” if you’re counting.

Seeing Chastain’s Molly push on through each ceiling she’s presented with is enjoyable. Her ability to show confidence and compassion simultaneously is astounding. Of course she is beautiful, but to stop there would be akin to think the biggest part of the iceberg is above the water.

Costner, playing Molly’s father, gets more out of this role than any he’s played since the late 80’s. His agility going from rigid to tender works well with his daughter, giving some real insight that she is as much his daughter as he is her father. Their conversation towards the end of the film is worth the price of admission.

Especially when that conversation leads back to one with Elba as they try to decide which of her terrible options she must accept in order to move forward. We find something out about both of them here, and it is touching in a way every parent should identify with, somehow.

This film was made for Sorkin to dip his director’s foot in Oscar waters. He does a good job moving the story through the routine of what one can expect from a biography and giving us a magical touch that at once seems so personal and universal. I hope that it works for more recognition for Chastain, though. She’s the real star.

(**** out of *****)

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