“Molly's Game”

 

            Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) was a world-class skiier.  Yes, driven by a strict and demanding father (Kevin Costner), but she says all Olympians are.

            Then came the big, freak injury.  The effective end of her career.  She's accepted into law school, but decides to take a year off first.  She goes where it's warm.  L.A.  And goes to work for, you guessed it, a controlling, dominating man.  Who introduces her to this little poker game he has on the side, so she can play hostess.

            Except this isn't just a little game.  It cost $10,000 to get in.  And you have to be invited.  Molly is fascinated with this shadow world of rich men willing to lose six figures in a single evening.  She meets foreign royalty, Hollywood stars, hedge fund operators, and even one guy who won a World Series of Poker.  To keep everything legal, she gets no “rake,” or percentage of the table.  She only gets to keep her tips.  And then the boss decides, on a night when he's the big loser at the table, that he doesn't need to pay her for the “real” work she does for him;  she makes enough in tips at the weekly game.  And she decides to get even.  And run her own game.

            She was good at it.  She used her smarts, and was also willing to use her looks.  But when she found out one of the “regulars” was financing another one, she privately called him on it.  Can't do that.  Breaks the integrity of the game.  So he showed her who's boss.  He moved the game himself.  And suddenly she was out.

            Yeah, this would have been a good time to just fold up the tent and go to law school as orginally planned.  She had some money saved.  But she found that she liked being around the action, and she knew that she knew how to make it happen.  So she moves to New York and starts a game there.  And then another.  And then another.  Pretty soon, she's taking little white pills to keep her awake.  And you can see where this is going.  One little increment at a time down that wide highway to perdition.

            She starts to get sloppy with her vetting of the players.  She winds up letting in a couple of Russians with Mob ties.  A couple of them pay her a friendly visit about “protecting” her.  And when she refuses, they arrange to have her beaten and robbed.  When one of her “regulars” can't pay, she realizes she's the one on the hook, so she arranges with her dealers to “skim” for the house, which, of course, immediately makes the operation illegal.  The FBI raid comes faster than you can say “jokers wild.”

            Enter her defense lawyer (Idris Elba).  He tries to get her to make a plea bargain, to give up the names in exchange for her immunity.   She won't do it.  And it's not just because she's afraid of retribution.  She's worried about her good name.

            This is a rapidly-paced movie with lots of fast dialogue.  It skips between different eras of her life.  It assumes the viewer's knowledge of poker, and how it's played.  It moves quickly, and hardly leaves the viewer any opportunity to catch a breath.  But it's mesmerizing, and relentlessly fascinating.  And, it's based on a true story.  At the end, you may not feel sorry for her.  But you'll understand how easy it was for her to slide downhill, because, as we all know, a little disregard for gravity and momentum, a little slip, and we're plummeting right along with her.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association