Molly’s Game plays some very interesting cards on Blu-ray .
The Production: 4/5
Louis Butterman (Michael Kostroff): There’s a saying in my business. Don’t break the law when you’re breaking the law.
Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain): What do you mean?
Louis Butterman: No drugs, no prostitutes, no muscle to collect debts.
Molly Bloom: I don’t do anything like that, but you just said I wasn’t breaking the law.
Louis Butterman: Let’s keep it that way, ‘cause you don’t want to break the law when you’re breaking the law.
Molly Bloom: Am I breaking the law?
Louis Butterman: Not really.
Molly Bloom: We’re able to find out for sure, aren’t we? Laws are written down.
Molly Bloom: Why didn’t you like me as much as my brothers?
Larry Bloom (Kevin Costner): There it is. I did. It only from time to time appeared that I didn’t.
Molly Bloom: It only appeared?
Larry Bloom: Yeah.
Molly Bloom: That is some Schedule 1 bull#[email protected] Why would – it only appeared – why would…Okay. I had an attitude problem. I talked back. I broke some normal adolescent rules. I snuck phone time after curfew. I took your car when I wasn’t allowed to…
Larry Bloom: You drove it into a McDonald’s.
Molly Bloom: And kids get punished for that, but they don’t…
Larry Bloom: Did you not see the McDonald’s? Did you misunderstand what “drive-thru” meant?
Molly’s Game is a genuine pleasure to watch, and a return to form by writer Aaron Sorkin, who makes his directorial debut. As with any Sorkin project, this is really a display of musical, rhythmic, intelligent dialogue by skilled actors – and unlike Steve Jobs, this one crackles throughout. The movie tells, with some embellishment, the true story of Molly Bloom, a young woman who rose to manage high-end underground poker games in Los Angeles and New York before running afoul both of crime figures and the FBI. Molly is played by an enthusiastic Jessica Chastain, while her attorney, Charlie Jaffey, is played by Idris Elba. Molly’s unfriendly father is played by a surprisingly good Kevin Costner. There’s a fair amount of glitz on the screen, given the obviously high-stakes figures involved in the poker games, but again, the real draw here is the famous Sorkin dialogue. Put simply, the Sorkin touch has long been something that would get me to watch a play, a movie or a television series. It’s rare to hear someone with an ear this good, and with a mind this fine-tuned. And after the disappointment of Steve Jobs, it’s a relief to know his skills are unabated.
SPOILERS: Molly Bloom’s story is fairly well-known around various parts of Hollywood and New York, simply for its notoriety. In the 2000s, she was known for operating extremely high money underground poker games, where celebrities, athletes and other big names would regularly drop a significant amount of coin in their competitions. When one of her LA players turned out to be running a Ponzi scheme, there was some significant fallout as the books showed she was receiving money from his accounts. Things got a lot more serious in New York, where she was arrested and charged in 2013 for being part of a major criminal operation, as some of her players were connected to the Russian mob. She was able to plea out to a much lesser charge in 2014 and was essentially sentenced to a large fine rather than any prison time. She published a book about her adventures in poker just after her sentencing, choosing to keep most of the names of her players confidential – she did let a few names out, but those were specifically people who had already been publicly known to have been there. Taken by itself, this is a potentially interesting story of an ambitious person’s rise and fall, albeit in the world of illicit poker.
MORE SPOILERS: Aaron Sorkin’s take on this story centers on the notion of Molly Bloom being an intelligent competitor, able to hold her own when swimming in a river with some fairly unsavory people. Sorkin’s Molly is very much the dealer with the heart of gold – the game runner who cares about the fact that many of her players are gambling addicts whose habit will destroy them. Sorkin’s Molly is a person who very reluctantly took a little rake from the biggest hands at her New York game just to protect herself from a potential default. And as one would expect, she has serious father issues – it’s telling that the movie almost never shows us her mother. With that in mind, Sorkin has crafted a free-flowing time narrative where we move forward and backward as Molly narrates the events that bring us from her childhood to the current day trial of the story. Everything essentially starts with Molly’s disastrous ski accident in 2002, where a tree branch in the snow ends her potential Olympics aspirations. The movie then tracks through all the events of the poker games and the other issues, culminating with Molly refusing to name names and choosing instead to plead guilty, and being granted mercy by the judge. When all is said and done, we return to that tree branch in the snow, with Molly completing her narration with the note that “I learned I’m very hard to kill.” Whether it be a potentially paralyzing accident or the full weight of a Federal prosecution, Sorkin’s Molly has it in her to recover and move on.
FINAL SPOILERS: All that said, the real heart of this movie, again, is the sparkling dialogue from Sorkin. Everything in the movie is geared toward it, and one can tell that the cast are energized in being able to perform it. The three primary performances – from Chastain, Elba and Costner are all extremely well-done, particularly when one considers the sheer tonnage of snappy couplets and monologues each of them must handle throughout. (To be fair, Costner’s real work doesn’t’ happen until significantly later on, but his park bench therapy scene with Chastain is a showstopper.) This is the sort of script that probably would do just as well as a stage play (albeit with a little help for the skiing scenes…) but it’s no less exciting to watch than any action movie. Only with a Sorkin film, the pyrotechnics always happen with the performances and the dialogue. As a director, Sorkin keeps things fairly simple – he makes sure it’s clear where everyone is in any scene and doesn’t overdo his coverage. He has a little fun with the skiing moments early on, but he’s happy to keep the emphasis on Chastain and Elba sitting in an office talking. (As a fun Easter Egg, Sorkin indicates in the set dressing that Charlie Jaffey is an attorney with Gage Whitney, a firm his fans will remember well from The West Wing and other shows of his…)
SPOILERS DONE: Molly’s Game was released on Blu-ray and DVD in April. The Blu-ray contains the movie in solid high definition picture and sound, with only a single, three-minute featurette as a bonus. The DVD contains the same materials, albeit in standard definition. It’s regrettable that there is no commentary or anything else to allow Sorkin and the others to really discuss the movie, but the actual film is strong enough by itself to warrant that I Recommend it for Purchase.
3D Rating: NA
Molly’s Game is presented in a 2:40:1 1080p AVC transfer (@ an average of 34 mbps) that presents a wide range of locations, lighting scenarios and flesh tones in satisfying detail. The movie is spread all the way from the warmth of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills to the chilliness of Manhattan to the snowy hills where Molly’s infamous accident occurs. Simply put, this is an extremely pleasing image.
Molly’s Game is presented in an English DTS-HD MA 7.1 track (@ an average 3.4 mbps, ramping up to 5.5 mbps during some moments with music or crowds, such as when Molly goes ice skating). It’s frankly a head-scratcher that they chose to have a 7.1 track for a movie that’s entirely dialogue-based, but there we have it. The disc also carries a Spanish DTS 5.1 mix and an English DVS track.
Special Features: 0.5/5
Molly’s Game comes with only a single, tiny featurette. Shame.
Building an Empire (3:03, 1080p) – For bonus features on this Blu-ray, all we have is this single 3 minute featurette that barely scratches the surface – and some of it is taken up with clips from the film. Interviews were clearly conducted during the production, as Sorkin and Chastain have a couple of soundbites, as does the real Molly Bloom. But nothing else has been done with the material. (I can only surmise that when the movie switched from being a Sony production to a smaller idea with STX Films, the budget for a more involved Blu-ray was slashed to nothing.) It’s really frustrating to see that this is the only bonus material they could generate.
DVD Edition – A standard definition DVD of the movie is included in the packaging. It contains the movie in standard definition, with an anamorphic transfer, English and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes (@448 kbps), the same English DVS track and the same 3 minute featurette as found on the Blu-ray, albeit in standard definition.
Digital Copy – Included in the packaging is an insert with instructions on how to obtain a digital copy of the movie.
The movie is subtitled in English and Spanish. The usual pop-up menus are present.
Molly’s Game is a delight for anyone who’s a fan of Aaron Sorkin’s verbal stylings. Fans of Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba and Kevin Costner will similarly have a good time with this enactment of the story of Molly Bloom and her adventures in the world of underground and illegal high stakes poker games. The Blu-ray presents Sorkin’s directorial debut in fine high definition picture and sound (including an inexplicable 7.1 DTS-HD MA mix) and almost no special features. But the inherent quality of the movie itself justifies that I Recommend it for Purchase.