Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD copy; 2017; R for profanity, drug content and some violence; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: Only one, “Building an Empire”
WRITER Aaron Sorkin makes his directorial debut in “Molly’s Game,” based on the true story of Molly Bloom, aka “The Poker Princess.”
Sorkin, an Oscar-, Golden Globe- and multiple Emmy-winner for “The Social Network,” “Steve Jobs,” and “The West Wing,” is best known for his rapid-fire dialogue, complex characters and provocative stories. “Molly’s Game” is inspired by Bloom’s book, “Molly’s Game: The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World.”
What a mouthful and what a story! Sorkin’s adaptation was also nominated for Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA and The Allliance of Women Film Journalists awards. Star Jessica Chastain received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance as Molly Bloom.
“This story is about someone who does the right thing when they could have gotten so much money, when they could’ve gotten so much fame. When they could’ve gotten out of trouble,” Sorkin says in “Building an Empire,” the lone extra from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
Bloom was in and out of the spotlight for decades. Raised to be a ski champion, her career ended once through sudden onslaught scoliosis, an agonizing curvature of the spine. Several operations and years later, she worked her way back to the slopes, only to be derailed by a freak accident on her Olympic-qualifying run.
Once her Olympic dreams were crushed, she puts plans for law school on hold to be “young in warm weather.” Moving to California, Bloom becomes a cocktail waitress, then office manager for a wealthy real estate developer (Jeremy Strong), who eventually insists she manage his weekly high-stakes poker game.
She’s good at it, and becomes a favorite among the players. But her erratic boss soon throws down a new set of rules, one being he’ll no longer pay for her office work since she’s making so much in tips. It gets worse, but by then Bloom knows how to set up her own games – and exceeds at it. Hollywood A-listers, wealthy businessmen, politicians and more demand invitations. The $10,000 buy-in to play becomes $250,000, but the bigger the games become, the bigger the risks.
Bloom’s life becomes terrifying when the Russian Mob demands a piece of the action. Then the FBI arrests her; her assets are frozen, then confiscated. She has 24 hours to find legal representation; prison seems certain.
In a fine performance from Jessica Chastain, Bloom searches for a lawyer. She’s been turned down by everyone by the time she reaches the office of high profile attorney Charlie Jaffey, played by Idris Elba. Jaffey doesn’t want to represent her either, but agrees to help her through her indictment. Chastain and Elba have good chemistry together; their awkward relationship seems authentic. It’s believable when Jaffey reluctantly agrees to represent her.
This is where we find the heart of Bloom’s story. The government knows she’s pretty much a small time operator in their 200 person criminal sweep. They want her to provide “color,” information about the gamblers to influence jury trials for the others. Bloom has texts and film that would ruin these men and their families, but refuses to give it over or testify. The FBI promises her decades in prison and a $200,000 fine. The IRS comes after her. Molly Bloom must accept complete ruin or betray her own ethics.
It no wonder Sorkin’s sense of justice caught fire.
Danish cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen of “Fences” (2016), “The Hunt” (2012), and “The Girl on the Train” (2016), delivers a fine sense of place throughout “Molly’s Game” from exterior winter skiing scenes in Colorado to L.A. interiors. (The movie was filmed in Ontario.) Even the gaming room interiors have sense of winter chill in Universal’s 1080p transfer (2.39:1 aspect ratio). Detail and sharpness is good, and color largely natural in various interior and exterior light. Banding crops up from time to time; blacks are sometimes crushed. But some of these flaws may be the result of deliberate overexposure and other camera tricks designed to convey a “video” effect.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack is excellent, clearly delivering Sorkin’s superlative narrative and dialogue. That’s no mean feat considering the film's lightning-pace. Environmental sound, in crowds at the Olympic trial or in gambling rooms, is exemplary providing an immersive sense of place.
Composer Daniel Pemberton of “Steve Jobs” (2015) and “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” (2017) provides an effective original score.
There’s only the one; the three-minute “Building an Empire” with interviews from Sorkin, Chastain, Elba, and Molly Bloom herself. “She’s not an expert on gambling, she’s an expert on gamblers,” Sorkin says.
“This is a story about going for it and succeeding in a man’s world,” Bloom says.
“Molly’s Game” blends truth with fiction, and as fantastic as it gets, much of Sorkin’s film gets it right. Yes – she’s a genius, and was trained to be an Olympic contender. Yes, Bloom got $3,000 in tips her first night helping her boss. Elba’s Charlie Jaffey is a fictionalized composite character. Yes, Bloom became addicted to drugs trying to keep up with the demands of her business. The FBI bust was very real.
Sorkin consulted Bloom throughout writing and filming. “Molly’s Game” keeps us involved for the duration – and talking long after the credits close.
- Kay Reynolds