A true story doesn’t always mean an interesting story and it certainly doesn’t always mean a good film. The history of cinema is littered with turgid true tales. Often even an interesting truth can make for a less than fascinating couple of hours in a darkened cinema. The formula for turning the truth into movie gold is as elusive as Scottish football fans who actually remember the last time the national team qualified for a tournament.
Molly Bloom has a story that would make an evening with Pablo Escabar seem a bit dull. Fortunately for us that story has been delivered to the big screen by Aaron Sorkin, a writer with a track record in this field; his “A Few Good Men” was based on a true story and “Charlie Wilson’s War”, “The Social Network”, “Moneyball” and “Steve Jobs” are all true stories. Sorkin is, it is safe to say, a screenwriter with a proven track record. This though is his directorial debut and he delivers a film that is as thoughtful, intelligent, razor sharp and stylish as any of his scripts.
Bloom was the Olympic wannabe who had her eyes very firmly on the prize of a spot on the US Winter Olympics squad for the 2002 tournament in Salt Lake City. A freestyle skier she was one good run away from achieving her goal before tragedy struck…and not for the first time in her life. She hit a branch, her boot came undone and so did her dreams of Olympic glory. As well as being a sportswoman she was possessed of a sharp mind and was set for a career in law with a place at Harvard awaiting her after she took a year out to re-set. That year out was to be spent in the sun of Los Angeles…it ultimately ended up lasting a lot longer than a year and it changed her life forever in ways that would prove to be far more costly than hitting that branch had been.
Molly ended up assisting her boss in the running of his high stakes poker games at the Viper Rooms in L.A, games where rock stars, actors and other people with lots of money and free time could drink, gamble and regale one another with tales of the high life. Eventually, with the help of one of the players (player X), Molly ends up running her own high stakes poker game before he destroys her life in Los Angeles in a spiteful rage. That player looms large in the first half of the story and a quick waltz around the web reveals some interesting possibilities for who he might be…web being the key word.
With her life in ruins for the second time Molly leaves California and heads for New York where she utilises everything she has learned to take her career to a whole new level. High stakes doesn’t come close to covering what was going on here. One decision taken when drugs had become a part of her life ends up proving costly in ways she could never have imagined and leads to a legal battle that nearly cost her everything…again.
Alongside a great story and a magnificent script the film is elevated to Oscar worthy by the performance of Jessica Chastain as Bloom. She is utterly mesmerising. The film runs for two hours and twenty minutes and it’s doubtful that Chastain is off screen for more than 20 minutes of that. This is very definitely her movie. She has already won a Golden Globe and been nominated for two Academy Awards…the upcoming third nomination is going to be the one that brings her an Oscar. There are other people in the film including Idris Elba, who is also very good, but the truth of the matter is that this is all about Chastain, it is a towering performance.