First Hit: Although a very interesting story, I felt pummeled by the constant voice overs and rapid fire conversational tone of most of the scenes.
This is a powerful and interesting story about a young woman who had a promising career in ski racing, but because of an injury, headed to California to clear her head and ended up running a gambling operation.
Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) was raised by her father, Larry (Kevin Costner), to be competitive and self-reliant at whatever she did. He was her primary ski coach and was a well-respected psychologist and pushed her with little mercy. There are numerous scenes in the film to help set-up this important dynamic.
When Molly leaves the skiing scene and heads to CA, she is doing it to relax, save some money and get her head together before she heads to law school. However, she ends up working for Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong) who is a small time real estate developer who happens to have a gambling problem as well. To make money, Keith holds gambling nights and invites Hollywood stars to his games. One such person, Player X (Michael Cera), plays well, wins often and likes to destroy his opponents. The games start out as cash games with the buy-in being $10K per player.
Keith tells Molly to set-up and run the games while he participates as one of the players. She gets really good tips from the players which far exceeds what she makes as a waitress and working for Keith’s real estate firm.
At one point Keith decides he cannot afford to pay Molly for her employment work and tells her to subsist on her tips from the running the games. She decides to run her own games when Keith fires her.
She becomes the "go-to" person for holding these card games. She knows that as long as she doesn’t take a skim/draw from the table it is all legal. However, some of her clients don’t have the cash and she ends up carrying them. So to protect herself she begins to skim from the table stakes which means that what she’s doing is now illegal.
When she opens a game in New York City, with $250K buy-ins, the Russians become players and this is when the shit hits the fan. The FBI is looking to see how the Russians are laundering money and they suspect Molly is doing this. When they raid her home as well as many of the other player’s homes, Molly refuses to give up any names. Because she’s facing huge prison sentence, she hires Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) to defend her.
Much of the film uses Molly and Charlie’s meetings as a jumping off point for viewing past scenes. During these flashbacks, Molly does voice overs to set-up the scenes. This happens a lot during the film and is generally effective. However, the intense, combative, and defensive way Molly speaks in the voice overs to set up the flashbacks, to Charlie, and to everyone else wore on me and I think the audience as well.
It became almost affrontive and I found myself wanting to tell Molly to take a break, breath and tell me what’s going on.
At the end when her father, Larry, comes back into the picture and they have three years of therapy in three minutes, Molly finally breathes.
Chastain was very strong as Molly. I felt Molly’s drive through her. Elba was also very strong as Molly’s attorney. His own intense nature was equally matched with Chastain’s. Strong was excellent as the semi-slimy guy who took advantage of Molly and got his comeuppance. Cera was great as Player X. His inner intelligence and drive to win and make people feel their losses was excellent. Costner was wonderful as the father and the scene of them during the three-minute therapy session where he will give the answers she’s looking for was perfect. Aaron Sorkin wrote and directed this story with an edge that didn’t quite work for me. The rapid fire conversational tone, eventually wore me down and pushed me away from the film.
Overall: I loved the story and didn’t like the rapid fire beating I took to get the story.