Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. China/USA, 2017. STX Entertainment, Huayi Brothers Pictures, The Mark Gordon Company, Pascal Pictures, Entertainment One. Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, based on the book by Molly Bloom. Cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Produced by Mark Gordon, Matt Jackson, Amy Pascal. Music by Daniel Pemberton. Production Design by David Wasco. Costume Design by Susan Lyall. Film Editing by Alan Baumgarten, Elliot Graham, Josh Schaeffer. Academy Awards 2017. Golden Globe Awards 2017. Toronto International Film Festival 2017. Washington Film Critics Awards 2017.
Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) competed in the Olympics as a freestyle mogul skier, her career destroyed by a tragic accident that caused her serious bodily harm. Her athletic dreams dashed, she is now trying to build herself back up by working at the best job she can get, as the assistant to a sleazy Hollywood producer, while moonlighting at a bar for the extra cash. When her daytime boss asks her to supervise a high stakes poker game that he is participating in, she finds that the gig appeals to her intelligence and talent, and it soon becomes a very profitable business for her that also risks her heretofore spotless relationship with the law. Based on Bloom’s bestselling autobiography, one which is a plot point in the film as one of the many things Bloom did to survive the financial punishment that came with having the FBI on her tail, this film tells her tale in flashbacks while she attempts to save her hide with lawyer Idris Elba working by her side. Because it’s written by Aaron Sorkin, who takes the helm as director for the first time, the information is relayed to you through piles of dialogue being delivered at breakneck speed; Sorkin’s talent for pouring words on you and making it feel good has never failed him, it’s actually quite fun to be in his turbo-fueled brain, but the fact that everyone basically sounds like him does also mean that the Based On A True Story elements of the film ring a bit false. Sorkin is the Cecil B. DeMille of modern day dramas, turning not a page of the Bible into three hour movie but a simple rumination on a pine branch into an entire action sequence, and what usually helps this delightful mania go down smoothly is a healthy level of humour that is missing here; Chastain has all the command necessary to carry a film, and certainly more than her fair share of talent, but she’s about as whimsical as a Supreme Court judge, while Elba makes no false moves but never quite creates the necessary chemistry with her to really let the film catch fire. The best moments are when Chastain squares off with Bloom’s true nemesis, her critical father played by Kevin Costner, who may not be the greatest actor who ever lived but is also a perfect example of star charisma. A satisfying movie and one that examines, though never really challenges, the North American ambivalence between capitalism and morality.