After opening presents on Christmas Day, head over to the nearest theater for the premier of poker’s newest movie, “Molly’s Game,” a true story about the life of Molly Bloom, the former host of illegal underground high-stakes poker games in Hollywood and New York City.
“Molly’s Game” has a star-studded cast, including Jessica Chastain (Molly Bloom), Kevin Costner (Molly’s father), and Michael Cera (a celebrity poker player). The movie is directed legendary screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, his debut in that role behind the camera.
“Molly’s Game” is the most anticipated poker-themed movie since “Rounders” was released in 1998, and is expected to outperform a string of poker movie flops such as “Lucky You” (2007) and “Runner Runner” (2013).
“Molly’s Game” won’t be released for a few more days, but early reviews are promising.
Shirley Sealy of Film Journal International said the movie is “riveting, breathless, intellectually exhilarating.” Pete Hammond of Deadline Hollywood Daily, wrote that Chastain had her “best performance to date.”
Chastain has already been nominated for “Best Actress” at next month’s Critics Choice Awards. Sorkin was nominated for “Best Adapted Screenplay.” Both are up for the similar honors at the Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 7.
Reviews from movie critics on Rotten Tomatoes have been mostly positive (83 percent favorability rating), with many impressed by Sorkin’s debut performance as a director.
“As a director, Sorkin mostly (and wisely) stays out of the way of his screenplay, composing shots with an eye toward how they’ll likely be shaped in the editing room, based primarily on verbal rhythms.”
— Mike D’Angelo, AV Club
Of those being more critical, the primary complaint was too much fluff.
“’Molly’s Game’ could have been a terrific movie if Sorkin could have edited out 20-30 minutes; as it is, it’s a good movie overstuffed.”
— Moira McDonald, Seattle Times
If the movie has appeal, perhaps it will be because it’s a family drama about doing criminal business with celebrities, more so than because of its foundation as a poker movie.
Originally told as an autobiography, Bloom is a former nationally ranked skier hired to host exclusive high-stakes cash games in Hollywood, and later Manhattan, for celebrities and wealthy businessmen.
Her brother, Jeremy, is the only athlete in history to have skied in the Winter Olympics and get drafted by the National Football League. Her family never approved when she moved from Colorado to chase fame in California, and she resented them for that.
With A-list stars such as Tobey Maguire and Ben Affleck competing in her games, Bloom made an estimated $4 million in a year hosting the game, where she provided attractive female dealers, cocktails on demand, and a safe, private place to play cards for gamblers used to casino luxuries.
But it wasn’t all glitz, glamor, and fat stacks of cash. In 2013, Bloom was arrested on federal charges for operating an illegal gambling business. She pleaded guilty but avoided jail time, receiving 200 hours of community service and probation instead.
Like for most illegal gambling operations, eventually the feds came knocking. Come Christmas, we’ll see if movie fans do, too.