Molly’s Game Movie Review

At its best, Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is cinematic music. Like many distinctive screenwriters icluding Mamet and Tarantino, he has an unmistakable style. There’s a zippy and often whip smart quality present. We heard that melody in The Social Network and on “The West Wing” and large parts of A Few Good Men, The American President, Charlie Wilson’s War, Moneyball, and Steve Jobs. On occasion, there are heavy-handed and slightly preachy notes in his wordy tunes.

We know what we’re getting in a Sorkin screenplay. An unknown until now is how he performs behind the lens and Molly’s Game answers it. The frequent highs and more infrequent lows of his writing are present here. And he pleasingly proves he’s got some style in the director’s chair, too.

The film is based on the real life story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), who went from a wannabe Olympic skier sidelined by freak injury to underground poker syndicate magnate. It’s an improbable yarn where truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Following her slopes related incident, Molly travels to L.A. and soon finds herself as assistant to a rich on paper and sleazy real estate developer (Jeremy Strong). He seems far more concerned with his high stakes poker game that involves celebrities and the West Coast wealthy – all male. Molly starts out basically holding their money. That doesn’t last long as her intellect soon has her running the show.

This puts her in constant contact with an unnamed movie star played by Michael Cera. A quick look at the facts of Bloom’s true events would put Tobey Maguire as the actual actor. Sorkin’s screenplay doesn’t dwell on the famous names that real Molly came in contact with, as apparently the subject’s book this is based on didn’t either. I will say this. If half the stuff about Maguire (err Cera’s character) is accurate, he’s not exactly your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

It also puts her in proximity with far worse types than bratty leading men. There’s the Mob, in Italian and Russian form. And that’s where it all gets truly dangerous. These individuals provide a risk to her personal safety, as do the drug fueled measures she takes on her own to keep the business rolling in celebrity, Mafia, and trust fund kid cash.

Molly’s Game is told in flashback as our central figure’s legal troubles mount. Idris Elba is her skilled and sympathetic lawyer. Kevin Costner is her hard charging dad – a therapist who is always seeking perfection from his daughter. It’s their dynamic that turns out to be the key one here and provides a window into Molly’s behavior. In some ways, it’s a relationship we’ve seen countless times onscreen before and this doesn’t add much freshness.

That said, when Sorkin’s writing is at its best, it’s an entertaining sound. Molly’s Game gives us plenty of long exchanges between particularly Chastain and Elba that qualify. We’ve seen the world of closed-door poker (in the solid Rounders for example) before, but not often. The writer/director frequently excels at displaying this fast-paced universe that just a minor segment of the ultra rich are privy to.

Chastain is present in nearly every frame and she provides another electric performance as a strong female getting it done in a male dominated universe. Elba offers sturdy support. Even though Costner’s subplot is the most routine, he adds some depth in the third act as the complicated dad.

Those familiar with Sorkin’s word games will find plenty to enjoy here. It doesn’t rise to the level of The Social Network, mind you. It does comfortably give me confidence that his dialogue works just fine with him also wearing the director’s hat.

*** (out of four)

 

Wind River Movie Review

For his first directorial effort, Taylor Sheridan has taken cues based on his past acclaimed screenplays to effective order in Wind River. Like his written work the year prior in Hell or High Water, this picture concerns a group of citizens who feel invisible and cut off from society in many aspects. In High Water, it was West Texas dwellers in the hot desert sun who saw the American dream pass them by. In River, it’s the inhabitants residing in sub zero temperatures on an Indian reservation in Wyoming that bears the film’s title.

As Sheridan has brought the issue of crime into both Sicario and High Water, it’s a homicide that awakens the characters sense of injustice. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a fish and wildlife officer who discovers the body of an 18-year-old girl in the frozen tundra. His job typically consists of hunting predators eating the livestock. This new discovery means he’ll assist in hunting a different form of predator. It’s young FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) who gets the call to provide federal assistance and she finds herself out of her element in the seemingly constant snowstorm elements.

Much like High Water, there are genre aspects that are familiar. What sets that movie apart and the same holds true here is a fascinating landscape to watch it in. Not every character that Lambert and Banner investigate is involved in the grisly crime, but they all seem bonded by the consequences of their far-off existence in this remote world.

It’s a pleasure to watch the talented Renner in a role that doesn’t involve assisting The Avengers or Ethan Hunt. His backstory is the emotionally charged one as his own young daughter suffered a similar fate to the victim here. There are moments where Renner reminds us of his significant dramatic abilities. Most of the other players exist to advance the plot (Olsen’s role is rather underwritten), but solid support is provided by Graham Greene as the sheriff and Gil Birmingham as the grieving father. Jon Bernthal turns up briefly as the victim’s boyfriend in a sequence that goes from sweet to horrific in a matter of seconds.

Wind River is a visually striking experience that easily proves Sheridan’s abilities behind the camera can match his writing. The West Texas residents of High Water may have been troubled and outraged by their lot in life, but they also had a sense of pride of where they came from. The people of Wind River feel the same. And our time spent with them is worthwhile.

*** (out of four)

The Shack Box Office Prediction

Next weekend, the faith-based drama The Shack hits theaters. Based on a bestselling 2007 novel by William P. Young, it hopes to lure in Christian audiences who have made various pictures exceed their opening weekend expectations.

Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, Radha Mitchell, Alice Braga, and Tim McGraw are among the cast headlining this tale of a man experiencing a crisis of faith after his young daughter is murdered.

Movies of this genre are often tough to predict and, as mentioned, they can often surprise with more than anticipated numbers. Solid word of mouth could allow this to have legs in subsequent weekends. I’ll predict a high single digits debut is likely.

The Shack opening weekend prediction: $9.7 million

 

For my Logan prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/02/23/logan-box-office-prediction/

For my Before I Fall prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/02/25/before-i-fall-box-office-prediction/