Originally due to hit cinemas on the 22nd November this hotly anticipated film will now be released on January 5th, which will tee it up nicely for the awards season. Following its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, the response from critics has been almost entirely positive, garnering a Rotten Tomatoes score of 94%.
The film is based on the snappily titled memoir ‘Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys’ Club, My High Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker’ and initial Hollywood pitches were for a TV series. It was Hollywood’s hottest writer, Aaron Sorkin, who saw in the narrative a film story that he wanted not only to write but also direct. ’It isn’t often you come across a story that is both cool and has a lot of heart, and this one does,’ said Sorkin when the first trailer was screened.
In the past there has been some criticism of Sorkin’s treatment of female characters, this film certainly sets the record straight on that score. Jessica Chastain, who plays Molly, sees this primarily as a story about female empowerment: ‘I like that the film explores female power and what that means in society…Molly’s journey goes through that and Aaron really shows the hurdles she had, but also how powerful a person she is’.
Voice over has often been criticised as a clumsy way of putting a band-aid on poor filmmaking, so it’s surprising that Sorkin uses so much of it, though of course, this is Sorkin penned narration, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised given the reverence accorded this writer’s prose. Structured around flashbacks like ‘The Social Network,’ Sorkin was at pains to ensure that the identities of the real-life Hollywood celebrities involved in the events were thoroughly obscured in his film. ‘I don’t want the movie to be about gossip,’ he said.
This is not a conventional gambling film, though many believe it will secure a place in the pantheon of best gambling films of all time. Not only does it foreground its central female character, in a genre where women are usually peripheral eye candy, but it is also not particularly interested in set-piece poker games. There is a natural drama about a poker game, a group of characters seated around a table creates a natural environment for dialogue, the raising of stakes builds tension toward the climactic reveal. In films like ‘The Cincinnati Kid’ or ‘Rounders,’ this drama of the game is fully exploited, and the games are key dramatic sequences within the films. ‘Molly’s Game’ is not this sort of gambling film, despite gambling being the milieu in which the narrative is set, the gamblers are not the central characters, and the games are not key dramatic sequences.
‘Molly’s Game’ is about money, power, greed and the survival of a strong woman in a world where men literally hold all the cards. The Wolf of Wall Street, but with heart.