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By midlandsmovies, Jan 22 2018 01:24PM

Molly’s Game (2018) Dir. Aaron Sorkin

After her hugely entertaining and brilliant performance in last year’s underrated Miss Sloane (review here), Jessica Chastain returns as another feisty boss focused on a career that again contains many questionable practices. Based upon the real-life story of Molly Bloom who ran celebrity-attended back-room poker games, the film is Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut and he brings with him the snappy dialogue he is renowned for.

The film itself is framed around a series of flashbacks (like Miss Sloane) and an ongoing court case (like Miss Sloane) where her closest confidante is a strong-willed Brit playing an American (like Miss Sloane). In this instance it’s Idris Elba who stars as Charlie Jaffey, Molly's lawyer who although reluctant at first, attempts to acquit her of charges stemming from her time organising the underground poker meetings.

Comprising of Hollywood high rollers, businessmen and later various mobsters, her hotel gambling evenings originate from Molly’s drive during her younger days as an Olympic ski prodigy which push her towards success and a lucrative, if suspect, income.

A patriarchal Kevin Costner plays Larry Bloom, Molly's dad, and provides a beat-for-beat father figure as per his stint as Pa Kent in Man of Steel but Michael Cera as Player X has much more fun in his role. Poking fun at himself again (after This Is the End) his composite character is allegedly a mix of Tobey Maguire and Ben Affleck amongst others. With a Hollywood income, and ego, he dares Molly to expand her business and provides a small but important role in the middle of the film as an arrogant antagonist once Molly double downs on her decisions to maintain control of what she has created.

Molly’s determination though has her creating new opportunities in New York and as we see her business develop, fail then re-emerge, her steely grit is played to perfection by Chastain. The actress throws in a smattering of trashy exuberance into the mix with low-cut tops and heavy make-up showing how out of her depth she is amongst the real life hoi polloi.

The fast back-and-forth dialogue from Sorkin is shown mostly in her interactions with Elba whose composed lawyer meets his match with Chastain’s ballsy businesswoman. Barbs are thrown both ways and Sorkin regular ups the ante with the two trading insults and information as Elba attempts to break through Chastain’s facade to uncover the truth. Chastain however keeps her cards close to her chest, not wanting, or unable, to clarify her position to avoid incriminating herself and even protecting, at times, her precious clients who trusted her.

The film’s narrative and subsequent editing serve to explain the complex story and glossary of gambling terms but the general cinematography of this biography/thriller is solid if underwhelming. However, dealing an audience both entertainment and raising some interesting questions of loyalty and opportunity, Molly’s Game bets its hand on Sorkin’s writing and two glorious performances from Chastain and Elba. An excellent, but somewhat forgettable, support cast fills the rest of the pack yet despite a few minor misgivings, the film delivers a jackpot payout for fans of the actors and director.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, May 9 2017 01:48PM

Miss Sloane (2017) Dir. John Madden

Helmed by the very British Shakespeare in Love and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel director, John Madden, Miss Sloane could not be further from the anglo-centric films of the director’s past. Focusing on American political lobbyists as it does, the movie rests squarely on the shoulders of a tour-de-force performance from Jessica Chastain as the title lead.

Chastain is ruthless lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane who is head-hunted by Mark Strong to support new gun law background checks. From media appearances to back-room meetings, Sloane is shown to be a duplicitous player of rumour, conjecture and debate. Using every piece of information at her disposal including campaign secrets, it is to Chastain’s skill that she manages to keep the audience on her side throughout.

However, the film is shown in parallel to a future trial where she is summoned to a committee who submits evidence that accuses her of breaking Senate laws.

Ballsy and brash, Chastain doesn’t play a one-dimensional character as there is an element of vulnerability at play as she seeks love (albeit of the clandestine sexual type) from a male gigolo. A strong supporting cast rounds out the fine acting talent on show and sees Mark Strong as her “boss” – although she never follows a word he says – and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as her media intern Esme Manucharian.

Despite sworn to secrecy, Sloane uses her intern's history to illuminate her arguments on TV and the constant conflict is not only between the rival lobby groups but within her own team who dislike her less-than-trustworthy ways.

Having already been won over by the central performance and the tight script, the film concludes with somewhat of a twist ending I didn’t even see coming. But all of the narrative – and almost all of the scenes throughout – squarely rests at the door of Chastain. Along with Rebecca Hall in Christine, it’s an intense single piece of acting that without which the movie would simply fall apart.

With the only criticisms being a slide towards melodrama in a few scenes and some un-cinematic set design, the film however is a well-made and brilliantly paced character study that covers both personal and political themes of fighting against establised norms.


Midlands Movies Mike

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