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Molly's Game

The best poker players don't rely on Lady Luck to deal them a winning hand. They make their own fortune through intimidation, cunning and careful consideration of their rivals' behaviour. Victory is seldom reserved for the player holding the best cards. Molly Bloom thought she had dealt herself a winning hand in 2009 as hostess of Hollywood's most exclusive poker game with a 50,000 US dollar stake to sit at a table frequented by film stars, directors and business titans. Her luck ran out four years later when she was arrested by the FBI but Bloom refused to fold and divulge secrets of her wealthy clientele. Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin makes his directorial debut with a slick dramatisation of Bloom's rise and fall, torn from the pages of her memoir. The first-time filmmaker deals a full house of snappy dialogue to his cast, overplaying his hand on occasion so Jessica Chastain is forced to deliver screeds in voiceover as the title character. As a scribe, Sorkin is not a fan of silence or gesture to communicate emotion when a verbal grenade can be tossed instead. Some one-liners zing, others are clumsily forced ("I felt I was in a hole, so deep, I could go fracking") but his cast are committed, including one showy scene for co-star Idris Elba that makes amends for a lack of fireworks during a sluggish first hour. Molly (Chastain) is a gifted skier destined for the Olympics, who pushes herself to the limit to appease her demanding father (Kevin Costner). She suffers a shocking injury on the slopes and subsequently lands a thankless job as personal assistant to real estate wheeler dealer Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong), who organises high-stakes poker games for the Hollywood elite. Molly learns the tricks of the gambling trade and when Dean betrays her, she retaliates by setting up her own game, luring some of his best punters including celebrity Player X (Michael Cera). As Molly's reputation grows, along with her financial exposure, she attracts members of the Russian mafia to her table, which makes her a prime target for an FBI sting. Coerced to testify, Molly seeks counsel from idealistic lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), who seldom gambles on his clients' freedom. Molly's Game is anchored by Chastain, who reflects every facet of her character's psychology as she weathers a storm of public vilification. Apart from his sole scene of grandstanding, Elba offers low-key support while Costner is restricted to a handful of moments of parental cruelty gift-wrapped as kindness. Sorkin's words speak louder than his choices behind the camera and his film is overlong. However, like some of the people around Molly's table, he bluffs his way towards a winning position.