When a freak accident on the slopes sidelines her bid to become an Olympic skier — an accident from which she insists upon walking away — she moves to Los Angeles and gets a job as a cocktail waitress.
The entire arc of her brief skiing career is established in the film’s snappily paced, frenetically edited opening sequence. I counted more than a hundred shots in 90 seconds; director Aaron Sorkin is letting us know that he knows what he’s doing. (Sorkin, of course, has created many fast-talking characters on The West Wing and in movies like A Few Good Men and The Social Network; this is his first time sitting in the director’s chair — though given the breakneck pacing of Molly’s Game, it’s hard to believe there was a lot of sitting involved.)
Molly meets Dean (Jeremy Strong) while working at the bar, and gets hired as his office assistant. He’s got rich friends — famous actors and international businessmen — for whom he organizes a regular high-stakes poker game.
Molly’s great at running the game for Dean, but when they part company, she starts her own game, with even higher stakes, taking his movie stars and high rollers with her.
She gets so successful that she’s soon running a game in New York, writing a book … and getting shut down by the FBI. She finds a lawyer (Idris Elba) who can keep up with her, and their trademark, Sorkinian back-and-forth dialogue is exhilarating, even if it doesn’t reveal a lot about their interior lives. If Molly has a boyfriend, or a sweet tooth, or a cat, you won’t find out from what’s onscreen.
But Sorkin makes the finer points of poker — and legal maneuvering — crystal clear. Some of the clarity comes from that snappy dialogue, some from voiceovers that fill in when the folks onscreen have to catch their breath. And even though this is Sorkin’s directing debut, quite a bit of the clarity comes from the visuals, annotated when necessary, precisely shot and edited with nearly every trick known to contemporary filmmaking.
Molly’s Game is a dense, complicated movie, made by a guy who excels at — who positively glories in — making the dense and complicated enormously entertaining.