Let me just start by saying that chances are Molly’s Game is going to be the most disappointing movie I’m going to watch this Awards Season and that based on the critics I’ve read online, I’m either wrong about it or the critics love Aaron Sorkin too much to realize it. I had been anticipating this release ever since I heard of a movie written and directed by Aaron Sorkin and starring Jessica Chastain, whom I believe is one of the greatest actresses of her generation, despite never having won an Oscar (although she deserved it for Zero Dark Thirty). It had all the ingredients: one of the best screenwriters in the world, Aaron Sorkin, was going to be able to direct his first feature based on the thrilling real-life story of Molly Bloom.
I’m just going to make my point: the movie lacks strength because of the excessive use of voice over. Too much talking. Yes, Sorkin is the master of dialogue, and you can see this from the first scene of The Social Network, one of his best works. But you can’t expect the audience to be at the edge of their seats when you are literally narrating the whole story. This is not an audiobook, it is a movie. As I was watching the movie I couldn’t help but wonder “can’t we just know she’s angry without having Jessica Chastain saying in voice-over that she’s angry”? We are not talking about a young screenwriter who isn’t able to explain his ideas in a subtle, cinematic way: we facing Aaron Sorkin who, for sure, would have been totally capable of doing that. He simply made the creative choice of using Molly Bloom’s book as a thread that runs through the entire plot, which may work for the critics but just not for me. Doesn’t the audience feel more immersed in the movie when things just happen in front of their eyes in real time? For instance when Bloom’s lawyer – played by the incredible Idris Elba – is defending his client in front of the prosecutors? The audience wants to feel in control, like not everything has been written in stone beforehand and in my opinion that is partly why I feel disappointing. A movie that could have kept the audiences glued to the screen ends up leaving us somehow bored. I understand the people who appreciate the God-like power of being able to know every character’s personality and secrets, but overusing it is just not worth it. And needless to say, what truly bothers me is that Sorkin received Golden Globe and Critic’s Choice nominations for this screenplay, which I believe are mostly due to the fact he is a well-known figure. One can only predict he’ll also take a spot on the Best Adapted Screenplay ballot at the Oscars…
Other than for this “mistake”, I believe the story has wit and character and could have perfectly been part of Martin Scorsese’s filmography, why is always a compliment. The world of poker, gambling, drugs and money can be truly fascinating, and the fact that we are in front of a real-life story makes things even more interesting, especially during the Awards Season. And let’s not forget the heart of the movie, the compelling story about honesty and integrity which is usually not told in such a direct way and that feels fresh and just right in a time when everything seems to be corrupt.
As for the performances, Chastain is brilliant as always and could easily claim an Oscar nomination, just not this year, as the competition seems to be fierce. As for Elba, I would love to say the same about him, but unfortunately I believe his screen presence is closer to a cameo than a supporting actor role, although I have to admit his “for your consideration scene” at the prosecutors’ office proves how underrated he is, especially in the foreign market, where he is practically unknown to the mainstream audience.
In the end, what could have been an Oscar front-runner ends up being a watchable drama that misses the mark because of a predictable mistake. In other words, show, don’t tell.