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Arts & Life

True Story Behind 'Molly’s Game' Is Powerful And Interesting

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Molly’s Game starts out like writer/director Aaron Sorkin is racing to a fire, but the film slows down soon enough, and the lighting speed of the opening makes sense. The Molly of the title, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), is in a hurry to get a lot of background out of the way before she can settle down to tell her story.

The movie comes from an autobiographical book by the actual Molly Bloom, who grew up in Loveland. Her father taught at CSU. Her brother Jeremy was a champion mogul skier and a football player at CU, and Molly was an Olympic caliber mogul skier herself, until she fell badly at the trials before the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. That’s when her life took a turn. Bloom ultimately ran very high stakes poker games in Los Angeles and New York, until the FBI raided her home and charged her with many racketeering crimes.

Molly’s career managing poker games makes a lively dance – men gaming each other, men pushing piles of chips into the center of the table, and men weeping as they tell Molly in private how they’ve fallen in love with her, all blended with scenes of Molly telling her story to her lawyer (Idris Elba) as they try to find a way through the weight of the federal indictments. At times, the hopscotchy pace of Molly’s Game feels like American Hustle, until you realize that this film steers in the opposite direction. American Hustle is about an elaborate con; Molly’s Game is about a tremendously talented woman who makes dreadful choices about how to live her life, but also develops a profound sense of her own integrity, which she refuses to relinquish. At a time when we reject the very notion of heroism because we prefer the fantasy that heroes in real life must be thoroughly untarnished, Molly Bloom comes off as genuinely heroic – she refuses to harm others to save herself, and she stands without apology as what she is – a human being.

Aaron Sorkin has a potent career as a writer – Moneyball, The Social Network, Charlie Wilson’s War, and The West Wing on television – but Molly’s Game is his first work as a director. His visual style seems unremarkable, but he does not fall into the freshman trap of thinking that muddled means deep. He takes a complicated story with an intricate structure and makes it coherent.

The picture also has a greater reach than other recent films. Sorkin doesn’t merely label Molly as a woman of integrity; he makes her earn it. She has a brutish, demanding father; she’s tossed around and literally beaten badly, and the FBI nails her for actions that really harmed only her. The movie does not excuse her, but allows her powerful resistance to demonstrate her deep-seated decency.

But one of America’s finest filmmakers over the past 60 years, Robert M. Young, who is far too little known, has worked with a crucial insight. Young has made Nothing But a Man, Alambrista, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez and several other genuine masterpieces. He says that a filmmaker should never tell the audience why a character does what she does, because even the filmmaker doesn’t know the why, and the audience will see through the explanation anyway and reject it. That’s the one serious mistake in Molly’s Game, but until that unfortunate conversation between Molly and her still-domineering psychologist father, the movie has enough strength and its own integrity that you can let it pass.

Even though Aaron Sorkin is a man, Molly’s Game centers on a powerful young woman at its core. Molly Bloom may not have the physical strength to push back at the men who try to overtake her, but she has the brains, the wit and the strength of character to keep all those poker players, her lawyer and even that father at bay.

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