It’s often a rare treat to go to a movie not knowing much about it – if you happen to have chanced upon a good one. Before we went in, Maaya told me only that it was about Poker. Now… I used to play Poker a bit at university. But I still know relatively little about the game. Which made this an opportunity to watch a fascinating character – Molly Bloom – operating in a fascinating world. What follows, contains spoilers. It’s not what I’d call a review as much as my jumbled and unrefined opinions on the film.
One of the challenges with a film like this is making the story accessible to people who don’t know the first thing about, despite its recent popularity, still a fairly niche and underground world. Poker players have a language all of their own, the rules are as complicated as chess and the way it’s played at a professional level is very nuanced and subtle. So for the majority of the story to work, much of the suspense and tension must come from the relationships between the characters rather than the game play itself. And most of the characters in this film are not nice people.
Despite what certain script consultants have to say about it, I personally love voice over narrations and I really think it added a level of intimacy and depth to this film. Jessica Chastain portrays Molly Bloom is a highly driven but guarded character and not the most feminine or expressive of women. And I think we need the narration to help make her likeable and relatable and to, as it were, be taken by the hand and guided into both the story and the world.
All the way through I was getting echoes of The Social Network. The fast talking narrator, spewing internal thought processes peppered with jargon that only the initiated will understand. And I guess in many ways the story is quite similar all be it set in a completely different world. And it then didn’t come as a surprise to find that the great and awesome Aaron Sorkin was behind this script too. (You should know that I really like Aaron Sorkin. In my head, everything he writes is a masterpiece!)
There’s some very smart and sneaky writing here too. Referencing The Crucible in the first act and then paying off the parallel at the end gave Maaya a buzz – an in-joke that only theatre nerds would understand. (I didn’t get the reference, but Maaya had seen it coming and blurted it out before Idris Elba actually said it.)
I couldn’t help thinking it was cheeky to force Molly’s entire self-realisation about why she went into running Poker games in 3 minutes because her father was a psychologist which provided a unique opportunity to rush it, without it seeming rushed.
I wouldn’t say it was an especially satisfying ending, but movies like this often aren’t. The way The Social Network ended wasn’t especially satisfying. Stories like this are all about the middle. Character somehow finds themselves involved in something they didn’t really see coming and profits massively from it, before ending up in court. The good thing turns bad and at the end we’re satisfied if they get out of their mess with their life.
I’d say it’s a good film and worth a watch even if Poker isn’t your thing. I wouldn’t say it’s my thing but I’m endlessly fascinated by people like Molly Bloom.
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