Released on November 22nd of this year, the expectation is that Molly’s Game could be the film that reinvigorates a genre faltering after the disappointing addition of ‘Runner Runner’, a movie which even the presence of Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake failed to redeem.
Its attempt to reboot the traditions of the casino genre, by making its central character an online gambler, resulted in, as one reviewer termed it, ‘a paint by numbers thriller’. As we’ve previously discussed on Film Blerg, the physical casino setting literally sits characters opposite one another, thus providing a plausible context for dialogue, whereas online gambling is essentially a solitary affair and therefore inherently undramatic.
‘Molly’s Game’ is based on the real-life experiences of Molly Bloom, as recounted in her memoir, the title of which really does give you a pretty good idea of what to expect: ‘Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker.’ Not only is the subject material terrific but the writer and director is Aaron Sorkin, whose scripts for ‘The Social Network’ and ‘Steve Jobs’ have made him into very hot property; a writer whose scripts don’t just offer crackling dialogue but also an incisive social commentary. He recently told the crowd at CinemaCon: ‘It isn’t often you come across a story that is both cool and has a lot of heart and this does’.
What makes this film a particularly interesting addition to the genre is its female protagonist, played by Jessica Chastain. Women are usually peripheral eye candy in this genre, a casino film which explores female power will certainly be fresh territory. So, is this the film which will knock ‘Rounders’ off its top spot as arguably the greatest gambling film of all time. ‘Rounders’ director, Brian Koppelman has made a significant contribution to the casino genre. Not only does he have this cult classic to his credit but he also directed ‘Ocean’s Thirteen’, ‘All in: The Poker Movie’ and, ahem, ‘Runner Runner’. Back in 2013 he cited his favourite casino films as ‘Hard Eight’, the first film from Paul Thomas Anderson, a languid neo noir which foregrounds character over action; ‘The Sting’, a buddy movie par excellence; ‘The Hustler’, another charismatic Newman performance and ‘The Cincinnati Kid’ which pits Edward G Robinson against a youthful Steve McQueen in a final hand of stud poker which still has purists arguing.
So, with a sequel to Rounders in the pipeline, what will Koppelman make of ‘Molly’s Game’. From what’s been said about the film it seems that the drama will be primarily concerned with Molly’s journey through an intensely masculine environment, rather the outcome of set piece poker games. Whether that will be sufficiently popular with audiences to knock Rounders from the top spot, we’ll just have to wait and see. If many young men ascribe their enthusiasm for poker to a viewing of Rounders at an impressionable age, then perhaps ‘Molly’s Game’ will do the same for women.