The sporting life

An energetic take on the life of the notorious Molly Bloom

Starring Jessica Chastain, Idris Alba, Michael Cera and Kevin Costner. Directed by Aaron Sorkin. Cinemark 14. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

Jessica Chastain takes the role of Molly Bloom, real-life infamous poker game organizer and former championship skier, and nails it. Molly’s Game—based on a true story that seems too crazy to be real—is a great movie about a woman’s struggle against the justice system and the perils of gambling outside the already dangerous realm of a casino.

Chastain is firing on all cylinders here. Making the experience all the more enjoyable is screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) in his stylish, snappy directorial debut.

Bloom was a top-notch athlete, shepherded by her domineering father (played by an excellent Kevin Costner), who had all of her plans laid out before her. She was going to medal at the Olympics, go to law school, and graduate to entrepreneur status. Her plans started to hit a snag when it was discovered she had spinal issues. Following major surgeries, she managed to get back on the slopes, only to suffer a colossal crash after being struck by a pine branch.

After that disaster, Bloom found herself working high-stakes poker games populated by big gamblers and celebrities. Michael Cera shows up in the movie as one of the players, allegedly based on actor and notorious card player Tobey Maguire. Cera is great in the role, though it would’ve been fantastically weird if they could’ve gotten Maguire to play himself.

Bloom graduated from working the games, to organizing them, eventually hosting the highest-stakes game in New York before things go awry. That’s where Idris Elba, playing Bloom’s lawyer, enters the fray and scorches the screen alongside Chastain. Both benefit from precisely written, fiery dialogue courtesy of Sorkin. The screenplay and direction are so good, the courtroom scenes in this film actually stand as some of the movie’s greater moments. That’s coming from a guy whose eyes often glaze over during courtroom dramas.

The film also makes good use of narration by Chastain, which—given the complexity of Bloom’s story—helps take the excitement to another level.

Cera, whose official role name is Player X, gets a good chance to go a little darker and more dramatic than usual here, and it pays off. He’s one of the more underrated, reliable comedic actors in play right now, and his work shows he’s capable of so much more. If you need to cast a major prick, put Cera on your list.

Costner’s resurgence continues in this film after his triumph last year in Hidden Figures. He’s making a name for himself as an elder statesman. The cast is rounded out by strong, colorful characters around the poker tables and inhabiting the courtroom.

In Molly’s Game, Sorkin’s dialogue (adapted from Bloom’s autobiography) has the kinetic energy of the best David Mamet scripts. While there are quiet moments, the movie generally fires along at an energetic level that never becomes overbearing. That’s where Sorkin gets big kudos for his directing chops. He keeps a heavily worded, constantly moving movie tremendously entertaining and remarkably coherent.