Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) must be grateful for having cast Jessica Chastain in Molly’s Game. He’s chosen his own characteristically verbose screenplay for his directorial feature film debut. As Molly Bloom, the actress slows his monologues down, parsing the character’s lines into distinct thoughts and emotions before translating them into plain spoken words — not as overwrought speeches. Sorkin tries to uncover Bloom’s remote interior life by focusing on Chastain’s exquisite jawline and her icy, glittering eyes. The screenwriter in him is constantly competing with the director, and the writer always wins. He trusts language more than the images to deliver the message.
But even when his verbal pyrotechnics threaten to bury her in exposition, Chastain acts her way through them. Bloom is a former Olympic hopeful and a reformed runner of high-stakes poker games. After the publication of her memoir, which the movie is in part based upon, she’s arrested by the FBI for “raking,” aka taking illegal pay cuts from the games. Set in a milieu she describes as a billionaire’s man-cave — luxe hotel suites with ex-Playboy models showering hospitality — Molly’s Game glamorizes all the sleaze. In this courtroom drama-gambling thriller, there’s only one scene in which Chastain isn’t coiffed like a movie star. It’s a tableau of violence that finally reveals the inherent ugliness of her life in the underworld.
Now playing at AMC Kabuki and Century San Francisco Centre.