MOLLY’S GAME: Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (MONEYBALL, THE SOCIAL NETWORK) has always gravitated his narratives around real-life persons whose intelligence and resourcefulness were matched by their social failures and flaws. In his directorial debut, Sorkin appears to be on familiar turf with the true story of a former competitive moguls skier (Jessica Chastain) who transitioned from her sport to become the organizer of the world’s most exclusive, high stakes “underground” poker game where the players included A-list corporate captains, athletes and entertainers. Chastain’s narration voiceovers are delivered with crackling crispness and are enhanced by Daniel Pemberton’s music score which create near brilliant sequences explaining the nuances, maneuvers and strategies of the game that generate far more excitement and suspense than any broadcast of ESPN’s “World Series Of Poker”. The dialogue is rapid-fire and laced with the sort of intelligent interplay that make you wish people could actually articulate their ideas, thoughts and feelings in such a fashion. For that, I credit Sorkin for refusing to ever “dumb down” his audience and having a first hour of a movie that flies along so smoothly that it feels practically airborne. The second half follows a rather standard “rise and fall” plot that chronicles the title character’s west to east coast odyssey and her associations with Russian mobsters that lead to the FBI arresting her for running an illegal gambling operation. The character’s drug addiction and rehabilitation are glossed over even though you know that an actress like Chastain could have given that storyline way more traction. If the protagonist’s motives are “to have power over powerful men”, the same comparison can be made with Chastain’s dominant character who dwarfs the presence of male co-stars like Idris Elba (BEASTS OF NO NATION) as her defense attorney, Michael Cera (SCOTT PILGRIM vs THE WORLD) as a famous actor whose card shark skills may or may not be patterned after Tobey Maguire (SPIDER-MAN) and Kevin Costner (FIELD OF DREAMS) as her demanding college psychology professor father who’s trying to act like he’s in another sports movie. But the foundation of any good film is built on good writing and this movie is on real solid ground when even the courtroom scenes, normally as absorbing as watching a guy fix the plumbing, play out like a tension filled round of “hold ‘em” where someone on one side is likely bluffing. For that kind of film, I’m all in.

CRITIC’S GRADE: B+