Rated R for instant scoliosis action. Okay, there's a lot of language in this movie. I mean, a lot of language. A woman is physically beaten intensely. The movie deals with gambling and toeing the lines of morality as just. It deserves the R rating, but this is the "R" of good drama. R.
DIRECTOR: Aaron Sorkin
I really need to give The West Wing another shot. I keep liking these Aaron Sorkin movies and I keep thinking that I don't like The West Wing. I know Sorkin's deal. He's got a gimmick. He overdramatizes. He puppet-masters. He writes snappy dialogue. Do you know what this ultimately leads to? An extremely engaging experience. Sorkin's real gift, and I don't really care how he does it, is that he makes boring topics interesting. I know that he loves this stuff. I get that this is all interesting to him. But that's what talented passionate people do. They make you interested in things that they are interested in. In the case of Molly's Game, it works...mostly.
Molly's Game is not a perfect movie, but it is a pretty fantastic movie. My big concern about the film is that it is extremely flirty with moral relativism. Aaron Sorkin knows this. He's telling this story on purpose. I don't get the vibe that Sorkin is advocating for people like Bloom specifically. He's not an advocate for underground gambling and flirting with sin. Rather, the story is about freedom. To tell that story, Sorkin chose someone who isn't a hero and made her a hero. I get the logic of it all. It actually is remarkably smart. But in the same way that Molly Bloom is playing with morally questionable forces, Sorkin does the same thing. I'm going to break it down because that's the point of this website. Molly Bloom isn't doing anything altruistic in this movie, like ever. I'm trying to think of one moment where she does something objectively good. We root for Molly because she is clever and strong, not because she's a good person. The only good and moral thing that she does is refuse to give up information that was given to her in confidence. The movie really plays up this whole thing. She knows that people have done terrible things and acknowledges that it is not her place to give that information over, not necessarily for the sake of the perpetrator, but for the innocents that would be caught in the aftershock. Okay, the way that she gathered all of this information was by playing hardball in the underground gambling industry. Her goal wasn't to make the fairest game. Rather, she wanted to make the most money while breaking as few laws as possible. Unsurprisingly, she did break a few laws. That's a side issue. Sorkin really delineates that this isn't a story about the laws that she broke. The laws that she broke, as I understand it, is piddly compared to what she was being indicted for. But Sorkin is telling the story that Molly Bloom has the right, with the exception of the few laws she broke, to do what she did. It oddly is slightly an Atlas Shrugged or Fountainhead situation. The strong character refused help and built her way up from the bottom. She made money when she wasn't supposed to make money. The government wanted to manipulate her into doing what is best for the many, despite the fact that her punishments didn't fit the crimes. This is a narrative about independence.
I like when the protagonist is morally questionable. It makes the story deep. We often watch these stories as two things. The first is the idea that we're going to see this person fly as close to the sun and fall way harder. We want to see the limits pushed beyond reason so we can discuss how much hubris the protagonist possesses. The other option is the Danny Ocean model. We see the morally questionable protagonist goad and goad the opposition. The antagonist nearly has the protagonist, but the protagonist reveals one more secret that unsettles the status quo. Molly's Game does something a little different. We start with this morally questionable character, Molly Bloom. She is interesting because she is multitalented and has a complicated history that isn't so much tragic as it is non-traditional. But Molly isn't good. She keeps toeing the lines of legality because she wants to stay alive while pursing a goal of getting more and more money. This means that she occasionally has to take down her opponents. I am a Catholic school teacher. Do you know how many times I have had to take down an opponent? Like, maybe once or twice. But Molly's life is a balance between maintaining relationships and sabotaging relationships. There's nothing all that healthy in Molly Bloom's world. The intrigue of underground gambling is a romantic and sexy one. That's what draws Molly to continue hosting these games. I'm really riding the high horse on this one because I'm a teacher. My wife is a doctor. We both feel called to do something important.
But this makes Idris Elba's speech something else. He's not wrong. The government was using Molly Bloom to get to a bigger fish and destroying her in the process. That part is wrong. But being a hero? Yeah, she didn't narc on people. That's very commendable. But that doesn't make her heroic. She was in a position to profit greatly. The fact that she didn't wreck people's lives is the base level of humanity. I totally respect her for trying to maintain her name. But Molly's Game is the tale of a hero and she really isn't. There are times in the movie that paint her as sympathetic. When that guy was losing all of his money (you know, that one time? Just look it up, you lazy writer!), she told him to leave. She was empathetic. She treated him like a person. But this is her own narrative. Other narratives paint her differently. When it is your own story, you are going to make yourself the hero of that story. Did Molly Bloom go through some terrible things? Absolutely. I'm reading horror stories about Tobey Maguire and those Spider-Man movies are going to be pretty hard to watch. The violence that landed her way was awful. And this might really be a testament to my privilege, but I don't tend to run into mobsters. I don't get beat up by mobsters because I don't mess with criminals. Yeah, that's a gross oversimplification, but Molly Bloom brings a lot of this on herself.
From a film perspective, Molly's Game is gorgeous though. I don't know what Aaron Sorkin does to make his boring concepts interesting, but it works in spades. Jessica Chastain keeps showing up for these intense dramas and she always does a good job. I know that Molly's Game didn't exactly knock critics' socks off, but it is a very good movie. I finally feel like she got a movie that really showed off her range. There's something cold and calculating about Sorkin's style. It tends to be about bad people being emotionally distant for the majority of the film until they break down. We see this best with how Chastain handles her father, played by one of my least favorite actors, Kevin Costner. Costner is pretty solid in here, but his role is pretty one-to-two notes. But it's Chastain's reaction to her father in the scenes she is in with him. Bloom is put into this place where she has to be stoic for a chunk of the film. There's Molly the person and Molly the businesswoman. Seeing that shift is really where the heart of the film is at. There's a lot in the film that I still don't really understand. I've never really been much of a gambler. It's not like Sorkin doesn't go out of his way to explain it in a clear manner. That's fine. But I don't care about any of that stuff. I think I actually might have shut my brain off for these parts and just believed whatever they told me. But when Molly the individual popped in, that's what I cared about. I can't agree with Idris Elba's daughter that she's somehow special, but she is validated with the fact that she goes through a lot in the movie.
I actually really liked this movie. I know. I'm a schlub. It is morally terrible and there's things that don't really matter in the movie. But it's clever. Oh, how I love clever things sometimes. Sorkin and Pahalniuk need to become friends because they are so emotionally removed from reality. It doesn't even matter because, if you are just watching from an entertainment perspective, it's great. But the second you bring your morality into play, I hope you have some problems because Molly Bloom is far from being a hero.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.