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Molly’s Game (Blu-ray Review)

Acclaimed writer Aaron Sorkin has enjoyed a successful run as a screenwriter. Molly’s Game, his directorial debut, based on a memoir by Molly Bloom, was an attempt to accomplish more, even if he did have to settle for another writing nomination at the Academy Awards. Regardless, one can see why his interest was piqued with a story like this. It places a strong female character at the front of a newsworthy story involving the participation of celebrities, successful businessmen, and mobsters in an underground poker club. Thanks to a cross-cutting narrative approach, the film relies heavily on Sorkin’s ability to let the actors and especially the dialogue build a fantastic flow of the film and the results are quite exciting.

Film:

Jessica Chastain stars as Molly Bloom an Olympic-class skier-turned FBI target, following a decade spent cultivating and working with a high-class clientele for the sake of an exclusive high-stakes poker game. The film jumps back and forth in time, so the basics for understanding use a modern-day narrative as a throughline. This involves Molly’s work with a lawyer, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), to hopefully clear her name, as her involvement in orchestrating a poker game and going on to write a book about it has led to an indictment with possibly severe consequences.

The best way to take in a film like this is to accept the type of world that Sorkin’s characters live in. Much like his scripts for The Social Network and Steve Jobs, Molly’s Game takes place in a skewed reality where everyone functions at a fast-pace, has a level of intelligence allowing them to keep up with all the other fast-talkers and conveniently have the need to have big speeches or conversations at pivotal moments in their lives that span several minutes of a day. While adapted from a memoir that’s based on actual events, Sorkin finds the joy in compacting huge amounts of time into several key scenes.

That decision provides the film a sense of energy, which is very much needed for a movie that is not even about the thrill of playing poker but watching someone watch others play poker. Of course, that only takes up a portion of the middle of the film. The focus is on Molly, all the way through, which means learning about who she is, where she came from, and what is driving her. That last point may be hit on the least, as the film goes overboard by just spelling it out in a poorly staged scene towards the end involving Kevin Costner as Molly’s father. However, it matters little thanks to a compelling performance by Chastain.

While it was commendable to see a movie like Miss Sloane arrive in 2016, the film felt like a warm-up for Chastain with this film. Molly’s Game’s script is sharper, the stakes feel higher, and the whole appeal doesn’t feel undone by certain ludicrous actions that don’t hold up when thinking about them later on. Molly’s Game may have a level of convenience, but it stems from Sorkin’s choice to make the film more impactful by stacking important moments next to each other, rather than draw them out. Through all this, Chastain shines in her ability to go toe to toe with some wealthy male characters, taking them to task based on her wits. And what an interesting cast there is here.

Chris O’Dowd, Jeremy Strong, Bill Camp, Brian d’Arcy James, and Stranger Things’ Joe Keery all factor in as different types of players with memorable scenes. Camp, in particular, has an excruciating few scenes to watch, as he gets into deep water based on a surprising action by a very dim character. Michael Cera has a notable role as well, portraying Player X, a major celebrity poker player (heavily rumored to be Tobey Maguire) who revels in destroying his opponents. All these performances led to some great scenes showing the different displays of power Molly finds herself utilizing.

As mentioned, Elba is on hand as well, and he does a fantastic job in this key supporting turn. The interplay between him and Chastain is spot on, but leave it to Sorkin to assemble a tremendous third act monologue that lays all the cards on the table and have Elba be right there to pick it all up brilliantly. Between these big moments and the subtle beats that rely on reaction and delivery, there is so much great work on display here to keep Molly’s Game as fun as a buddy comedy at times and deadly serious at others.

If anything is holding this film back, it’s the sort of cinematic grace that comes from directors like David Fincher, Danny Boyle or Bennett Miller, but feels lacking here. It’s not as though Molly’s Game came across like the work of madman Stephen King when he directed Maximum Overdrive, but the production can merely be stated as competently filmed. Perhaps it comes down to the focus and how to juggle so many plot threads, but the film’s depth only goes so far when considering how far this movie could go in exploring Molly’s place in a male-dominated society. Given Sorkin’s desire to construct a film based on this character, some inherent opportunities are presented, but even from a visual standpoint, only so many chances are taken to explore it.

That’s ultimately a mild issue, however, as Molly’s Game left me feeling incredibly satisfied. Thanks to what I consider some of the best, wittiest dialogue exchanges of the year (and this film has some good competition), there is a lot to have fun within a movie that holds the balance of someone’s name (and by extension, their life) on the line. It’s well-acted and does manage to take on a lot for a lengthy film that doesn’t feel overwhelming. The film fits right into Sorkin’s wheelhouse and seeing him go for it by handling the direction at least shows how he’s not afraid to get dirty.

 

Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Clarity/Detail: Molly’s Game arrives on Blu-ray with an above-average transfer. The STX release, brought home via Universal, does well in the glitzier scenes involving the big poker games. The scenes taking place in more low-key locations such as Elba’s office or different homes tend to have issues with banding and the quality of sharpness. A bit surprising, as the level of detail, feels right when it comes to some of the big poker-based set pieces, while various close-ups reveal moments of shakiness that subtract from the overall quality.

Depth: There’s no flatness to any of the image and a good dimensionality to what is presented.

Black Levels: Black levels are consistent. With all the darker scenes when focused on a lot of the interiors, it’s good to appreciate the balance here. Some minor noise issues crop up, but nothing too distracting.

Color Reproduction: While there’s a subdued color palette for much of the film, it does well to emphasize better a lot of the costumes worn by the high stakes gamblers and Chastain, when presented seen onscreen.

Flesh Tones: Facial textures register very well. You get a good amount of detail when looking at the characters up close. That works better than the details around the characters, but still fine when considering we’re so focused on the stars.

Noise/Artifacts: Some light noise, as mentioned.

 

Audio:

Audio Format(s): English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English DVS 2.0, Spanish DTS Digital Surround 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: I do like that Universal discs tend to go all in with a 7.1 track. While not a bombastic film when separated from the dialogue, enough is going on to play up in the movie. The flashy transition through poker games, arguments, and use of soundtrack plays well throughout the film.

Low-Frequency Extension: The LFE Channel gets a few moments to work with thanks to some of the settings visited and how certain scenes play out.

Surround Sound Presentation: While the dialogue is a huge focus, there is a good balance of score, speaking roles, and sound effects when it comes to watching the film handle its channels. The film is front-heavy, but there’s a well-rounded aspect to the audio track as a whole.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone sounds loud and clear, which is most certainly important for a film that relies on its wordplay.


Extras:

Wow. Barely anything to speak of in the extras department. That’s a real shame, as Sorkin has proven to be great with commentary tracks in the past.

Features Include:

  • Building an Empire (HD, 3:03) – A very quick discussion of the film with the cast and crew.
  • Previews (HD)
  • DVD Copy of the Film
  • Digital HD Copy of the Film


Summary:

Molly’s Game has a lot going for it as a well-made drama. It’s highly entertaining thanks to a solid script and actors that know how to handle Sorkin’s dialogue. The Blu-ray is what you need as a far as a solid technical presentation. Sadly, there are no worthwhile extras to speak of, but the film still has enough going on to make it worth viewing.

 

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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