Featuring a stellar cast with Jessica Chastain in the lead role, Aaron Sorkin’s debut directorial effort tells a very interesting story in his typically snappy style and is engaging throughout, though could perhaps stand to use a little less voiceover.
Chastain plays Molly Bloom, a former competitive skier with dreams of the Olympics. When her dreams of competing are dashed, she discovers the world of high-stakes poker, and eventually runs some of the most exclusive games of poker for some of the biggest names in both Los Angeles and New York. Bloom’s story is a highly interesting and entertaining one, full of arrogant Hollywood stars, Wall Street bigwigs and other miscellaneous rich people who happily part with a lot of cash just for the thrill of gambling.
Always skirting on the edge of the law, the film charts Bloom’s rise and fall in this glamorous but shady world, utilising voiceover narration that allows Chastain to comment on what happened and explain each situation. In the meantime, Bloom is meeting with Charles Jaffey (Idris Elba), someone she has earmarked as her potential lawyer for the upcoming court case against her. Their discussions are probably the best parts of the film, allowing Sorkin to flex his dialogue muscles to construct some intense and very engaging verbal battles between the two, which rattle along with his trademark ferocity. Elba is excellent as Jaffey and settles calmly in to Sorkin’s script, providing heft to each and every Sorkin line and proving an excellent sparring partner for Chastain.
The poker scenes are fun and interesting, and Chastain is a typically engaging screen presence, though the film does suffer a little from its over-reliance on voiceover, settling in to a pattern that could do with being shaken up a little with other story telling methods. Nevertheless, Sorkin keeps things going at a great pace and addresses a lot of issues in the film’s 160-minute runtime, as Bloom ruminates not only on her career, but on her childhood and her family life as well. Those aspects are coaxed out with the aid of Kevin Costner as Molly’s father Larry, and Costner puts in a stalwart performance that provide those sections, which are definitely contain the film’s heart, with the gravitas it needs.
Central to it all though is Chastain, and it is on her to bring Sorkin’s words, and there are many, to the sort of vibrant life he expects from performers. She does so comfortably, easing through the lines and giving Bloom that sense of strength needed to progress so far in a harsh environment while being unafraid to dive headlong in to her vulnerabilities also. Sorkin may be an exceptionally talented writer who has penned some of the best films of recent years, but it’s his performers that elevate this work from a snappily directed and passably engaging film in to one with more substance behind it, and one that is definitely worth seeing.
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