Monday April 16, 2018
Movie Review: Molly's Game (2017)
Whenever I watch anything scripted by Aaron Sorkin I find myself channeling Eliza Doolittle:
Words Words Words
I’m so sick of words
I get words all day through
First from him, now from you
Is that all you blighters can do?
And I’m a writer.
Sorkin does love to hear himself go on, doesn’t he? It was the part I never bought about “The West Wing”: the hyper-articulateness of it all. It’s certainly refreshing to hear in a dumbed-down world but it leaves a false aftertaste. His characters all sound similar, for one. They also have all the answers. No one’s searching, they already know, so the conversations are less Socratic than Sorkinic. They simply rush headlong through their stats, data, anecdotes. Cf., that opening scene of “The Newsroom,” which so many love but which is a bit fish-in-a-barrel for me. Can a brother get a pause? My kingdom for an um.
I actually found myself laughing out loud near the end of “Molly’s Game” when our protagonist’s father, Larry Bloom (Kevin Costner), who drove his daughter to succeed and then drove her away, shows up at the 11th hour while she’s making a speed-skating ass of herself at the Central Park rink. He walks her over to a park bench for a better-late-than-never father-daughter talk, which begins this way:
I’m going to give you three years of therapy in three minutes.
So Sorkin. If it were any more Sorkin it would explode from self-importance.
As for the great lesson the great man has come to impart? It’s about how our hero, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), an Olympic-caliber freestyle ski champion, wound up where she wound up: on federal trial in New York for running a high-stakes poker game with as much as a $250k buy-in, and surrounded by some of the worst of the wealthy worst: Wall Street execs, Russian mobsters, etc. This was after running a similar game in LA surrounded by douchebag Hollywood celebs and skeevy hangers-on. Wasn’t she planning to go to law school? How did she wind up on trial for her freedom?
She offers up an answer, “drugs,” but he waves it off.
Larry: You didn’t start with drugs until the end. They weren’t the problem, they were the medicine. No. It was so you could control powerful men. Your addiction was having power over powerful men.
Molly: That’s really what you think?
Larry: No. I know it for sure.
Also so similar. To what her attorney Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) does. The men in the movie are there to suss out the real her—the her she keeps hidden. She even keeps it hidden from Charlie when she’s begging him to take her case. It’s up to him to suss out why he should.
See, Molly had a debt sheet (money gamblers owed her) worth millions, and she could have sold it but didn’t. She sold other things: her clothes, her car, but not this thing worth the most. Why? Because she couldn’t be sure how the buyers might collect—whose thumbs or legs might be broken. Whose lives might be ruined. She couldn’t do that. Because she’s a good person. So he has to take the case.
Hell, she could’ve gotten a $1.5 million advance on a book deal if she’d only named the Hollywood names in her poker game, including, here, Mr. X (Michael Cera), whom everyone assumes is Tobey Maguire, and not just because he’s played by Cera. She couldn’t do that, either. She only named the names already in the public record. For which she got a $30k advance. Bit of a hit there.
Even to the feds, whose sphere she entered only because of the Russian mobsters and Wall Street execs and Ponzi schemers at her table, men who quickly gave up her name to save their own asses, she refuses to name names. “She’s got the winning lottery ticket,” Jaffey says, “and won’t cash it!” Because she has integrity. Because her name is her name. Because she’s a good person.
Except ... wouldn’t the world be better off if she had given up the Russians and Ponzi schemers? Don’t we want to see that? Them behind bars?
More, doesn’t this contradict what her father sussed out about her? Dad says she turned bad because she wants to control powerful men; Jaffey says she’s good because she won’t give up powerful men. The only way that’s not a contradiction is if she doesn’t give them up because she wants to maintain control over them; she wants to keep them in her back pocket and maintain some kind of hold over them. In which case, she’s hardly the good person Jaffey (and Sorkin) make her out to be.
“Molly’s Game” was released last fall in the midst of the #MeToo movement, and many critics thought it was indicative of that movement: a powerful woman standing up for herself amid scummy men. But it’s actually the opposite of that movement. She has the goods on bad men and lets them off. She accuses no one. For all the words Sorkin gives her, he doesn’t give her those.