Jessica Chastain has never looked better than playing high stakes poker mastermind Molly Bloom. Raised by a psychotically demanding father (Kevin Costner), Molly fails as a world class downhill skier but succeeds in organizing one of the highest-stakes poker rings in the world. In doing this, she brings to the screen a host of predictably addled, addicted and rich personalities. Watching director Aaron Sorkin ratchet up the suspense as Molly gets in over her head is a whopping 140 minutes of pure fun.
Based on the book by Molly Bloom, Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (screenplay for “The Social Network”) busts out in his directorial debut. Having written for Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men,” Sorkin knows power with an option on violence when he sees it. His screenplay for this film has garnered a Golden Globe nomination and will be mentioned in the Oscars. He has crafted a screenplay that captures the elusive genius, and vulnerability, of Americans driven to succeed at any cost.
If wealth and power cannot be achieved legally, try another way. Michael Cera catapults from his previous roles as snarky slacker to a perfect fit as poker genius Player X. In this role, he is the first to acknowledge that Bloom is a woman to be reckoned with. He is also the first to try to destroy her. There will be others, not the least of which is the US Justice Department, which takes a dim view of unregulated million-dollar poker pots. This story is reportedly the real deal and, perhaps because of Sorkin’s powerful screenplay and direction, you are there whether you like it or not.
Everyone wants their share, including some very scary mob characters. There are the gambling addicts, pitiful as they come, blowing unimaginable wads of money through psychotic temper tantrums. The addicts reflect off flashbacks of Molly’s success-addicted father, taking out some long-hidden nightmare on his daughter. When Molly herself is driven to a life of crime, it is hard to say who is on the sane side of the table.
A supporting cast of quirky and unstable gamblers is contrasted nicely to the rock-solid persona of defense lawyer Charlie Jaffey. Idris Elba takes on the supporting role of Jaffey as he took on the role of co-victim with Kate Winslet in the marginal “The Mountain Between Us.” Unfortunately, he is doomed to play a cipher gain and he lets the steam out of this movie. His next big role will be bigger than even his smashing success in the TV series “Luther” and his simmering Commander in “Beasts of No Nation.” But for now that is not to be.
Beautiful work is done by Costner as the bullying dad you are really glad you did not have. The soundtrack is as entertaining as the story and matches Sorkin’s tempo of ever increasing tension. Never a dull moment.
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