This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Director: Aaron Sorkin
It’s somewhat of an inevitability for successful actors to try their hand at directing a feature film of their own. We’ve had everyone from Tommy Lee Jones to Ed Harris take a crack at it, each with varying degrees of success. Actors make actors’ movies: heavy on performance, light on a cineast’s eye, films that rather unanimously receive approval for their central performance but don’t enjoy a shelf life longer than their year of release. Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule: Ben Affleck is a frequently cited case in point. But what happens when writers give directing a shot? And what if that writer is among the hottest names in Hollywood?
Well, it turns out a writers’ film isn’t all too different from an actors’ film. With MOLLY’S GAME, Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has stepped to the plate in an attempt to direct a prestige picture, a character-centric true story that’s one part Oscar bait, the other part belligerent entertainment. It’s a film birthed from the onslaught of THE WOLF OF WALL STREET copycats that have littered Hollywood—from WAR DOGS to AMERICAN MADE—since Scorsese gave decadent anti-heroes his stamp of approval. All that is to say, yes, MOLLY’S GAME is unquestionably fun, showered in Sorkin’s quick wits and lead actress Jessica Chastain’s formidable performance, but it can never escape reading like a screenplay that failed to process through the mind of a visual storyteller.
Talk to Me: The Movie
MOLLY’S GAME covers the entrepreneurial wits of a certain Molly Bloom, a failed Olympian who found her way into running elite poker games in Los Angeles and New York. There’s a lot to chew on referentially. Sorkin is almost critically indebted to everything Scorsese has pumped out in years prior, and seems to stimulate much of his narrative with the visual polish of a Danny Boyle film (fitting seeing as this is Sorkin’s first outing since Boyle’s flawed Sorkin project, STEVE JOBS). All of this seems to function as short-term relief from the film’s most terminal illness: everything happens in the dialogue. And this isn’t out of the ordinary for the likes of Sorkin. Even THE SOCIAL NETWORK is unabashedly talky, but what separates his Facebook biopic from MOLLY’S GAME is one simple caveat: the eye of David Fincher, a director who understood when verbal impulses could be replaced with visual indicators.
For most of MOLLY’S GAME, we are fed an overload of visual stimuli. Sorkin does a commendable job embellishing his film with so much eye candy that we forget how much lazy narration and rapid-fire rhetoric is being used to steamroll this narrative to the finish line. It’s a fascinating use of montage that never actually tells us anything, because words are being spoken that ultimately serve to reiterate any and all images present in the film. For the most part, MOLLY’S GAME is an audio book with Chastain doing her very best to give her character a semblance of empathy. As a result, Sorkin’s story is certainly captivating, but it begins to rear its ugly head once you realize that it’s only interesting because it insists on being told out of order.
Structurally, MOLLY’S GAME is no different from THE SOCIAL NETWORK (it’s also oddly familiar when viewed side-by-side with MISS SLOANE), jumping between court hearings in the present to the tumultuous events of the past. Where flashbacks registered as vital to understanding Mark Zuckerberg’s mind in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, MOLLY’S GAME jumps in time only to service Sorkin. This process certainly makes the telling of her story more compelling, but it also goes to show that Sorkin doesn’t actually have that much to say about her. This comes to an absolute low whenever Sorkin wastes his audience’s time with sequences covering Molly’s childhood, all of which seems to be directed with the workmanlike attitude of an ABC Family drama (with a few curse words for good measure).
That is, if ABC ever got to be this icy
Another case in point is the incorporation of Michael Cera as a character by the name of Player X. Cera is posited as somewhat of an essential cog in Molly’s narrative. For her initial rise to success, this certainly seems to be the case. His ensuing villainous outburst sparks an exciting narrative turn, only for him to be eradicated from the narrative entirely. It’s moments like these that showcase MOLLY’S GAME’s anecdotal nature. As interesting as it may sound, the film could start at the 40-minute mark and still make perfect sense. Having said all this, most of MOLLY’S GAME holds up as a directorial debut, boasting an enormous ensemble of household names—each of whom deliver with passion and solidarity.
Sorkin’s film is far from the trailblazing champion that it surely would love to be—any and all ensuing Oscar nominations for this film would be patently undeserved. As engaging as Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue may be, he fails to realize the one thing that made THE SOCIAL NETWORK so special: Fincher knew that Eisenberg and company should speak like normal human beings when their emotional beats came to fold. It’s something that MOLLY’S GAME really bungles in its ending, in which Kevin Costner literally gives Chastain an entire character arc by telling her what her problems are over a chat on a New York City park bench. It’s moments like these that reveal Sorkin’s need to reconsider how his story could have been told visually, proving that even the greatest writers need some help before becoming great directors.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend