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Jessica Chastain dazzles in "Molly's Game"

Jessica Chastain dazzles in "Molly's Game"

Rating: ****

How much you enjoy “Molly’s Game” will almost certainly depend on how much you care that a writer very obviously directed the film. As a writer, and someone who is very much at the barricade for Aaron Sorkin’s excessive style, well, my bias is in the first paragraph. You know what you’re getting yourself into. 

It’s a credit to the powerhouse performance given by Jessica Chastain that the near constant voiceover isn’t overwhelming. Yes, the film is based on a book written by Molly Bloom, but if the film has a weakness it’s that there’s too much talking and not enough doing. I know, in a Sorkin film? I just blew your fucking mind. 

What it does well is provide a vehicle for the verbal volleys between Chastain and Idris Elba, perfectly cast as the lawyer who reluctantly takes on Bloom following her arrest for running a string of illegal poker games in Los Angeles and New York. Come for the celebrity gossip, stay for the sparring matches between two of the best working performers in the business penned by one of the best writers alive. 

Oh, and names have been changed and stories amalgamated for the screen adaptation. So, if you’re looking for your gossip fix, you’ll want to do some digging online to figure out what belongs to whom. Listen, that’s not really what makes this machine hum anyway. You’re here for Chastain, okay? Promise. The other stuff is online for free.

And boy does Chastain dazzle. It’s hard to imagine she’s underrated in the Year of Our Isaac 2018, but it feels like it. Her ability to oscillate between ferocity in one scene, serene in the next all while being witty and charming makes me wonder if she should be in the running to be the next James Bond as much as the charming Brit she shares so much screen time with. 

Chastain is excellent in “A Most Violent Year,” but here she is given more to do; this is Chastain’s movie and it rules. Do I wish a story centered on a woman striving to bury toxic men was entrusted to someone other than Sorkin? With every fiber of my being. Is Chastain perfect for the role? Absolutely. 

The third act goes into contrived and, let’s face it, less interesting places for what I can only assume are thematic purposes. Taking a book filled with juicy anecdotes and spinning it into a film poses problems, and Sorkin has never proven himself to be all that good at sticking landings — this is coming from someone who loves “Steve Jobs” but pretends the last 90 seconds didn’t happen. 

That leaves a film that is thoroughly entertaining, meticulously crafted and a wonderful star vehicle for Chastain. It’s also flawed in ways that keep it from being more than a very good film with great performances, which thus far has been the story for one of the best actresses in the business. When Chastain links up with the right film, look out. She’s coming for that Oscar — eventually, anyway. 

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