Molly’s Game – A Review

Image result for molly's gameAaron Sorkin directs Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in Molly’s Game. For his first directorial venture, Sorkin choses the explosive story of ex-Olympic class skier Molly Bloom and her high stakes poker game which brought everyone from Hollywood’s who’s to the billionaire wall street players around the table..

 

Jessica Chastain plays Molly Bloom and the story follows her near fatal fall while skiing to when she moves to Los Angeles to take an off year before law-school. Alternating between waitressing and temping at a real-estate developer in LA Molly is invited to play hostess at an exclusive poker game. This whets her appetite for the life of high stakes poker. What follows is the meteoric rise and the subsequent dramatic fall of the “Poker Princess”. Jessica Chastain is fantastic as Molly. She seems to be the embodiment of all of Sorkin women. She is equal parts emotionally fragile and stoic, at once resentful of all the people around her and at the same time acting as a sympathetic pit-boss when her players lose big or profess love to her. There are moments when you see glimpses of Maya from Zero Dark Thirty and that is a good thing. This movie is essentially a one woman show and Jessica Chastain carries the entire movie on her lithe shoulders.

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Idris Elba plays Charlie Jaffey, Molly’s lawyer. Elba is a hot-shot newyork lawyer and a former prosecutor who reluctantly agrees to take Molly’s case. Elba while possessing a great screen presence seems to struggle while enunciating his dialogues. Elba’s delivery is not best suited for the rat-a-tat-tat dialogues of a Sorkin screenplay also known as Sorkin-isms. Unfortunately Elba makes a real mess of his screen time and is nearly unbearable.

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Sorkin is a phenomenal writer and has turned in some of my favourite screenplays both on television and cinema. The West Wing, The Newsroom, The Social Network, Moneyball and Steve Jobs. But none of these were directed by Sorkin, and that is where I think Sorkin needs to up his game. The script and screenplay seem to become overbearing with Chastain’s Molly essentially doing a voice-over for almost the entirety of the movie. While Chastain is a phenomenal actress, her voice over skills make the proceedings feel like a real drag. With a Sorkin script the build-up is lengthy and very wordy but the pay-offs are huge and eternally satisfying, here there is so much build up about the high stakes poker and the players involved but the payoff feels like a  let-down

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The big ticket item is the who’s who of Hollywood who came to play at bloom’s games and here it is an afterthought. The juiciest bits are left off the screen and the burden of carrying the story forward falls on Chastain entirely.

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Mildly entertaining due to the fantastic Jessica Chastain but almost excruciating due to Idris Elba and his inability to speak clearly Molly’s Game is a Bad Beat- a subjective term for a hand in which a player with what appear to be strong cards nevertheless loses. I expected more from Sorkin’s directorial debut.

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The Wolf of Wall Street – A Review

Martin Scorsese directs Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall street a story about the penny stock broker from New York who was dubbed the moniker that lends itself to the title of the file by the Forbes magazine after he got rich quick and was a subject of the FBI investigation.
The movie while winning rave reviews for Di Caprio’s brave performance of Jordan Belfort it is also generating a lot of discussion about and dividing the critics on either side of the debate whether Scorsese glorifies the debauchery and the excess and the life that Belfort led. While the argument does merit a discussion but anyone who looks at Di Caprio’s depiction of Belfort and thinks to himself I want a life like that is wrong in the head from the get go.


The story kicks off with a midget-throwing competition in the offices of Jordan Belfort and it cuts back to his origins where we are introduced to Hannah played by McConaughey who takes Jordan under his wings and shares the secrets of how to make money on the Wall Street and introduces the then greenhorn Belfort to the world of cocaine and circle jerks.
What follows from there on is the rags to riches story that seems pretty incredible and therein lies the attraction to the aspirational attributes of Belfort’s life. A penthouse suite at the trump towers, a huge yacht with its own helicopter, a white Ferrari like that from Miami Vice and the other pleasures that riches bring. Belfort is not shy to flaunt his excesses either and that is where it crosses the line over to the morally corrupt, vapid, believing his own bullshit territory.

Belfort delivers many a motivational speeches to his army of stock brokers and you see the madness to make more money than he can spend in his eyes and DiCaprio is brilliant when delivering those speeches, making you really question his sanity but while still admiring his ability to inspire those around him.


DiCaprio is assisted by Jonah Hill who plays Donnie Azoff a guy who walks up to Belfort in a diner and says show me your paycheck and I will quit my job and come work for you. It goes from there to drug addled insanity after insanity which gets Belfort tied up on an airplane to rendering him nearly dead after he over doses and wrecks his car while driving back home. His blonde trophy wife is played by Margot Robbie who is just as vapid if not more but still manages to evoke some sympathies because Belfort manages to be a bigger Ass. Kyle Chandler plays the FBI agent out to get Belfort and I wish he had been given more material to sink his teeth into.

Therein lies the problem with the movie – the pacing is a bit off – there are scenes that don’t feel honest –like the conversation Jordan has with his father after a blow out over the expenses. It feels forced and just something that the script writer Terrence Winter put in because it was there in the book written by Jordan Belfort. Some scenes feel over long and not entirely necessary – like the board meeting that Jordan is having with his friends over the choice of midgets – it goes on and on and on and serves no real purpose – we have by then already established they are all horrible human beings. There are also scenes that you wish had more time given to them like the one where Denim the FBI agent played by Chandler goes to meet Jordan on his boat.

Also another problem with the script is the lack of any explanation of what exactly was Jordan Belfort accused of. Peddling penny stock is hardly a crime, insider trading is a crime and the shenanigans that Belfort pulls on the Steve Madden deal are worthy of a SEC investigation but where he gets all the cash from is not clear. There is no explanation provided for the cash that Belfort has lying around and that he wishes to put away in the Swiss bank.

When Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio collaborate it is cinematic gold – The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island. The Wolf of Wall Street is not in the same league though. While Scorsese tries to stay as close to the story as possible the fact that Belfort is such a despicable human being who rapes and slaps his own wife is not a character you can connect with on any real level. Despite this the movie is immensely entertaining. The one reason why a lot of people are so divided over the movie could be because Belfort does not get justifiably punished for all his crimes and ends up with a resort like jail sentence and a post-jail career in motivational speaking.

This is not a perfect movie in any regards technically or story telling wise but it is finds its wings when Leonardo DiCaprio is in his element, that one scene where he is caught in a dilemma about whether or not to accept the FBI deal is a brilliant piece of acting . Watch it for Martin Scorsese tries something different yet again and does not seem to be bound any particular genre. Watch it because Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the – if not THE best actors working today.