These character flaws are recognized by her and often occur within the very same men who wish to protect women at every turn. It is this depth and odd psychology with men that allows Molly’s Game to show why Molly is such an influential and strong woman. So much of her life has come from her seeking to escape the control of a man who had disappointed her so greatly, had not cared for her as much as her brothers, and as a means to finally fight back against how she perceived the patriarchy was holding her back from success. Yet, this was just part of the story. In a touching scene towards the end of the film, Larry Bloom explains his shame in knowing that she knew about his infidelity and in seeing her resultant distrust of men and her belief that marriage was meaningless, is what led to him hiding his affection for her. He could not deal with the same, thus he ran away from it in favor of being with sons who had no idea of his shortcomings as a husband. It was an act of cowardice and immaturity to be sure, but also representative of the dichotomy of the male personality. So capable of hurting women in the same way any human can hurt another, yet so instinctively drawn to protecting them – in the same conversation, Larry adamantly states he wants to hire a man to beat up the guy who beat up Molly, despite her pleas that she is fine – men are a complicated beast. For Molly Bloom, this issue proves to be the one that defines her character in the film, but is also one that shows her resolve and the resolve of women throughout the film. Larry is not necessarily a wholly bad man, but Molly did not need him to become successful. He wanted her to try skiing, but she failed to reach the top of the sport. He wanted her to be a lawyer, but she went on the unbeaten path of becoming the host of poker games worth millions and blazed her own trail. This ultimately showed she could enter into the world of men and fight her way to the top. She could bring other women along with her on her rise to the top, allowing them to become as empowered as she has become. She could fight with the best of them and hold her own against all newcomers, never relying upon the help of a man to keep herself upright and healthy. Though men in the film have not learned that women can exist without their existence, Molly and the other women show what makes the story in Molly’s Game so inspiring for women everywhere. It is the story of a woman who created her own wealth, outsmarted men, and overcame her own personal issues in life to become a powerful and influential person. It is a story that demonstrates how hard a woman must fight to live in a world run by men, but it shows that it is not impossible and can be done in spite of any obstacles or objectification a woman can encounter.
Yet, Molly’s Game is certain to show that men are not all bad. Larry himself is redeemed in that aforementioned park sequence, but the character of Charlie Jaffey comes to represent the best of the male sex in the eyes of Molly. Serving as her lawyer in the federal court case, Charlie is a single father to a little girl who he assigns homework to, forces her to write essays on books, teachers her poetry, and micro-manages every detail of her school studying. He is incredibly hands on, strict, and a tough father who wishes to have his daughter outwork, outsmart, and out-think the other students. He wants her to excel and wants to push her towards whatever future she wishes to pursue. In Charlie, Molly comes to see her own father given Charlie’s demanding nature. However, he is uncertain whether or not this is the right path and asks Molly if he thinks he is being too harsh on his daughter. In a revealing moment for the film’s themes regarding women’s need to enter a man’s world, Molly encourages Charlie to be even harsher and double the amount of work he gives to his daughter. The moment ends quickly with Sorkin showing a quick reaction shot of Charlie before moving on, but the meaning of the moment is clear: women must work twice as hard to make it in the world.
Yet, Molly’s connection to Charlie is even deeper than this moment. Winning him over through her kindness towards her players, her unwillingness to blackmail the men she rubbed shoulders with in poker games, and her drive to overcome all obstacles, Charlie is the only man who ever fights for her. He argues with the prosecution to give her leniency in a passionate speech that is impeccably delivered by Idris Elba. He leans on her for feminine advice, treating her as an equal and not a servant, and is willing to bend to her will whenever she puts her foot down on a topic. He is the only man who respects her, cares for her enough to fight for her on her terms, and believes her to be more than just a beautiful woman with influence. To him, she is a female success story in a world where there are too few. In seeing this side of him, Molly is able to grow as a character. She no longer has to fight back against her father or against any of the poker players who wish to control her. It is a moment that allows her to overcome her main hurdle as a character: distrust of men. In Charlie Jaffey, she finds a man who is lawful, forthright, honest, caring, and respectful, which is the antithesis to every other man she had encountered in life. It does not rob her of her strength, but rather allows her to become a more full-bodied character who courageously moves through life, armed with nothing more than her own intellect and drive.
In bringing this strong and gripping character to life, Sorkin’s script is obviously greatly influential, but the acting of Jessica Chastain further breathes fiery life into Molly Bloom. Throughout her career, Chastain has a penchant for picking projects that find her as a woman breaking into a man’s world, whether it be this film, Zero Dark Thirty, or Miss Sloane. In each, she plays a woman who is certainly broken in certain ways – especially in Miss Sloane – and mainly in regards to how she is seen by the men she works with, what indulgences she allows herself with men, and her need to fight to even reach any measure of equality. Given Chastain’s own personal crusade to help women around the world break the glass ceiling, these roles are a natural fit and she demonstrates why in Molly’s Game, playing this strong woman with considerable presence and vulnerability. In spite of her strong exterior and built up defenses inside, it is clear through Chastain’s equally restrained and passionate performance that this is a woman with personal demons she must overcome, lending perfectly into the themes that Sorkin’s script explores regarding trust, masculinity, and women’s struggles in a boys’ club. Alongside Chastain, Idris Elba, Michael Cera, and Kevin Costner all turn in strong performances, especially Elba’s contemplative and determined lawyer who is willing to try anything he can to help Molly out once he sees her humanity. As the shifty and manipulative Player X, Cera shows a different, more cut-throat side to his acting range that hints at the potential for Cera to become a more celebrated actor in the coming years.
Where Molly’s Game struggles is in the first-time director pains experienced by Sorkin. At 140 minutes long, Molly’s Game is a film that has garnered criticism for its length. However, in my opinion, the length is a non-issue. Sorkin’s fluid and brisk dialogue allows this film to fly by and play like a film that is under two hours. Its pacing is quick enough and its dialogue is engaging enough that it is a film that feels like light and enjoyable without ever bearing the brunt of its length. However, Sorkin’s issues as a director come in balancing the variety of time periods. Relying on a Wolf of Wall Street or The Big Short-esque voiceover throughout, Molly’s Game plays into the classic “rise-and-fall” story tropes, even if it is not necessarily as defined by them as many of its subgenre counterparts. Yet, this voiceover certainly pins it into this hole with Sorkin using it as a crutch to keep the film coherent whenever it changes time periods. It sets the scene and introduces the audience to characters – similar to Casino – while Molly retains the same witty self-awareness of Wolf of Wall Street or The Big Short. It is an odd mix that never really helps the film out in a noticeable way, as the transitions between time periods are always rocky. Either the cut is too abrupt or the previous sequence ends too quickly, making it a disappointment or surprise to see the film cut to a new time period. While the script is truly Sorkinian with great intellectualism, wit, and a desire to probe the psychology of characters, Molly’s Game would have benefited from a more assured direction that could figure out how to balance Sorkin’s ambitious structure. Plus, the script is hardly perfect with some fortunate encounters and an over-reliance on fluffy speeches about how Molly is not as bad as her reputation in the press may suggest. Having already put the audience on her side, some of these come off as self-serving and forced, but nonetheless, they do not greatly detract from the script’s quality.
Molly’s Game further suffers from Sorkin’s freshman status through the visuals of the film. Though competently shot by cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen, the visuals are quite flat. Akin to Christensen’s work on Life, Molly’s Game often has shots with a goldish hue, capturing the luxurious nature of the production and costume design, as well as instilling a classical and rich feeling to scenes that include many power players in the world of entertainment and politics. It is a smart touch, but one that never exceeds being just average to above average. It captures the action, has a few nice shots along the way, and frames the action well with Molly always lingering in the background at her games, but it never truly captures brilliance. It, as with the general structure of the film, would have benefited from the visual flair of David Fincher in The Social Network or Danny Boyle in Steve Jobs, as Sorkin never seems overly concerned with the visual language of the film, in favor of the spoken language (natural for a screenwriter), leaving the film rather flat and un-engaging as a visual work.
Though Molly’s Game could have been among the year’s finest films with a more assured direction and without the jumbled narrative switches between past and present, it is nonetheless a very good film and a great first directorial effort for Aaron Sorkin. Terrifically acted, strongly written, and greatly engaging, Molly’s Game is a film that is thought-provoking and a great exploration of the psychology behind the rise of Molly Bloom. This is a film about a woman in a man’s world who knows that men only want her for her body and not her brains, all while demonstrating the resolve, determination, and fight a woman must show to be able to elevate themselves into positions of power. It is an inspiring story of a strong and powerful woman, one that should resonate greatly with female audiences and inspire young girls to believe that they can indeed break the glass ceiling.
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