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Film / Molly's Game

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Molly's Game is a 2017 crime drama biopic written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (in his directorial debut), based on the memoir Molly's Game: From Hollywood's Elite to Wall Street's Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker by Molly Bloom.

It tells the true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), an ambitious woman whose life takes an unexpected turn after an injury forces her to retire from Olympic-level skiing — namely, organizing high-stakes poker games for the famous and wealthy.

Starting out modestly enough, the endeavor quickly grows in notoriety within the gambling community, ultimately leaving the game — and Molly herself — at risk. When she's arrested by the FBI for possible collusion with the Russian mob, Molly seeks the legal counsel of Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) to get her out of trouble — before it's too late.

Kevin Costner and Michael Cera also appear in supporting roles, as Molly's father Larry and "Player X," respectively. Trailer.

Molly's Game provides examples of:

  • Achievements in Ignorance: "Bad" Brad accidentally bluffs his way into winning a huge hand (his first ever win at the table) because he was too bad at poker to realize that he should have folded. His reckless betting spooks Harlan into thinking he has a much stronger hand and he folds.
  • Adam Westing: Subverted. While Michael Cera plays an unnamed, famous Hollywood actor like himself, and the film uses actual red carpet photographs of him, he's not actually playing himself. Player X is based on other Hollywood actors who were active in the underground poker scene at the time.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: The real Molly Bloom has dark brown hair, while Jessica Chastain's portrayal of her has reddish-brown locks.
  • Affably Evil: Shelly, who uses his art gallery to launder money for The Mafiya, is an enthusiastic young man who's very apologetic about not having any cash the first time he comes to Molly's poker game, but cheerfully offers up a $7 million dollar Monet painting as collateral. Molly is a little taken aback.
  • Always Someone Better: While Molly was quite accomplished at a young age herself, both of her brothers eventually eclipsed her in their father's eyes — as least, she seems to think so.
  • Anachronic Order: The film switches between two main timelines, past and present. In the past, Molly's sporting career ends and she starts running questionably legal poker games. In the present, Molly has been busted, and her lawyer is trying to keep her out of jail. We also get a few flashbacks to Molly's childhood.
  • Antagonistic Offspring: Molly and her father have an antagonistic relationship, shown in both current-day scenes as well as flashbacks to her youth.
  • Artistic License – Engineering: Molly's lawyer asserts that laptops copy text message histories from phones plugged into them, implied to be automatically. Computers don't actually do this unless the device is manually backed up using an application, like what iTunes does for iPhones.
  • Based on a True Story: Adapted from Molly Bloom's memoir of the same name. The book itself actually appears in the movie and is the inciting incident for the FBI arresting Molly, as she mentions members of The Mafiya as participants in her games, so the film is something of a sequel to the first edition of the story. Charlie even quips to her that "you finished writing a book before the good part happens".
  • Being Good Sucks: Molly would have walked if she'd just turn over some scandalous gossip to spice up the trial, but she won't betray her clients' confidences, costing her her fortune and a felony conviction.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Molly doesn't have to go to jail. On the other hand, she's a convicted felon, it will be hard for her to get a good job, and she can't go to Canada.
  • Blackmail: Players at the game keep sending Molly sexual propositions via texts and e-mail, and she points out repeatedly that this makes them easy pickings for blackmail and the tabloids. No matter how often she says it, there is always a new guy who thinks he is the first person to send her a love confession.
  • Blinded by Rage: Harlan gets tilted after being bluffed by Bad Brad, resulting in him going on a massive losing streak and gambling all night, missing his wife's birthday party. Molly tries to convince him to cut his losses after he starts tilting, but he insists on recouping his winnings. He doesn't.
  • Boring, but Practical: This seems to be Harlan's play style before he is Blinded by Rage: Molly says that he isn't gambling, he's playing poker.
  • Bowdlerise: Molly has to buy bagels for Dean, and he berates her for buying "poor people bagels." Charlie reads this incident in Molly's book, and says that if Dean is who Charlie thinks he is, then he really said "nigger bagels," and asks Molly why she is protecting Dean.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Molly gets quite a few of these moments toward her father.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Done twice over. As a teenager, Molly was diagnosed with severe scoliosis and her spine had to be restructured mechanically; under normal circumstances she should have moved on, but continued pushing herself as an Olympic-level skier. She was on the edge of qualifying for a medal when a freak accident on the mount makes her crash hard, reminding us that her spine was "rebuilt using parts from an erector set." In this case, even that turned out to be not so bad, but the culmination of all her injuries ensured she wouldn't compete at that level again.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Molly tells Douglas the story of Circe from Classical Mythology, how she would serve men lavish feasts and then transform them into animals, when she tries to get him to understand that she is using his addictions and weaknesses for her own gain. When Douglas tries to assure her that he would never do anything like that to her she has to get up and walk away.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Molly, Charlie, and Larry amongst others. It is a film written by Aaron Sorkin, after all.
  • Descent into Addiction: The stressful nature of Molly's lifestyle turns her to a cocktail of drugs and substances.
  • Deus ex Machina: Molly pleads guilty at her trial, but the judge sentences her to a large fine and community service because he thinks that Wall Street types do worse things than her and never get charged with anything. The prosecution wanted her to go to jail.
  • Education Mama: Larry pushed Molly for greatness when she was growing up, and she recognizes this quality in Charlie towards his own daughter.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Molly hates being called "Poker Princess."
  • Everyone Has Standards: Despite relying on — and actively enabling — the gambling addictions of her players, Molly feels downright pitying towards "Bad" Brad and how much money he loses at the game week after week. She encourages him to leave the game, and when he refuses she offers to get him training and tips from poker professionals.
  • Fan Disservice: There is a brief scene of Molly in the shower, with Toplessness from the Back. This is after she has been beaten up, and we see bloody water running down her back from her head wounds.
  • Fanservice: Most of Molly's attire is quite revealing, a required part of the world she was involved in and discussed as part of the story (at her first poker night, she wore a modest $88 department store dress). This continued even after she stopped handling poker nights; at her arraignment, Charlie even asks if she is trying to promote a "Cinemax version" of herself.
  • Financial Abuse: Molly's father didn't support her move from Colorado to Los Angeles, so she had to sustain herself during and after the move. Dean eventually tries this as well, but by then, Molly is able to undercut it.
  • For the Evulz: Player X is already wealthy and doesn't need the money he makes from playing poker. He plays because his favorite thing in the world is ruining people's lives.
  • For Want Of A Nail: Had the pinestick that resulted in Molly's freak accident been in any other position or any other angle, chances are the accident, and Molly being involved in organizing poker games would've never happened.
  • Freud Was Right: Discussed, along with a subversion of All Psychology Is Freudian and Freudian Excuse. Larry is a college psychologist and Molly starts a meaningless argument over Freud's worth as a psychologist. It quickly turns toward personal attacks about the difference between not liking men or not liking dicks. Near the end of the story, Larry accuses her of being addicted to having power over powerful men, which he argues against, but he later confesses it was just to rile her up so that he could make his real point.
  • Functional Addict: Molly starts abusing drugs and alcohol to cope with the stress and pressure of running her games. She holds it on a leash so that she is never visibly out of control to her clients or employees, but during the trial, she admits that her judgement was seriously compromised and that's why she made the blunders that brought everything down.
  • The Gambling Addict: Many of Molly's clients fall under this trope. Molly herself is also addicted to the gambling scene, albeit as the one who organizes it rather than playing.
  • The Ghost: Charlie's ex-wife and mother of his daughter is only referred to, and not seen.
  • Good Lawyers, Good Clients: Despite being in hot water with the FBI, Molly is ultimately a decent person, and this compels Charlie to represent her in the case. She came to him in the first place because she wanted a lawyer who wasn't even a little bit shady. Causes issues when Charlie informs her that her laptops copied text histories from any phones she charged them with, and her immediate reaction is to want to destroy her laptops and old hard drives which, he reminds her, he can't let her do, because he is a good lawyer.
  • Hard Boiled Detective: A Running Gag has Molly saying that the first sentence Douglas says to her each night sounds like the title of a hardboiled detective novel.
    "Gut shot on the river."Poker meaning 
  • Hollywood Healing: Averted. Molly is attacked by a mob enforcer and beaten up pretty badly. Going to the ER would attract police attention, and after cleaning up, she says she waited two weeks in her apartment before her injuries and bruises faded enough that she could cover it up with makeup and go outside again.
  • Honor Before Reason: Charlie tells Molly that if she does a deal with the government and names names, then she will get her money back, and will not go to jail where she might get raped by the guards. She refuses, because this will ruin the lives of the men she names, and she will not compromise her name by doing so. He replies that none of the people that she wants to protect are lifting a finger to help her, and finally asks why she's so intent on protecting her name.
    "Because it's all I have left! Because it's my name."
  • I Have Your Wife: Not literally, but when Molly gets robbed and roughed up by a mob enforcer, one of the things he tells her is that they know where her mother lives.
  • Illegal Gambling Den: Molly Bloom started organizing illegal poker games after her skiing career floundered because of her Career-Ending Injury.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: When Charlie asks Molly to tell him about the Russians:
    Charlie: Would you like a glass of water?
    Molly: I'd like a glass of bourbon.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Larry was tough on Molly as a kid, but he proves in the scene near the end in Central Park that he really does love her and understands her contempt for him.
  • Karma Houdini: Most of the men who played in Molly's poker games were involved in much worse things than she ever did, and yet many of them get away relatively scot-free. Of particular note is Player X, who ruins people's lives for fun, was engaged in a scheme that could have put Molly in legal jeopardy without her knowledge, successfully screws her over and steals her LA poker game, and never gets punished for any of it. In fact, because Molly only used the real names of people who were exposed in the Bad Brad indictment, it appears Player X managed to not even get touched by that.
  • The Long List: A legally mandated list of 87 questions were required to be asked by the judge when Molly is set on pleading guilty, among them including any recent drug use.
  • Loving a Shadow: After Douglas Downey confesses his love for her, Molly explains that he only thinks he likes her because she is the "anti-wife". At the games she encourages his gambling, his drinking, and she has him served by beautiful women all night long. It's the environment he loves, not her.
  • The Mafia: A group of gangsters try to muscle in on Molly's games after she becomes established in New York. A pair of them approach her in a bar after Molly's own security man asks her for a favor in meeting some business friends of his. When Molly turns them down, they send a thug to beat her up and rob her in her own apartment. Afterwards, however, there is no follow-up harassment and she learns that — purely coincidentally — a massive police sting hit them a few days later and they had much bigger things to deal with than her.
  • The Mafiya: The reason the FBI is so determined to nail Molly even after she's already been driven out of the poker business. Russian organized crime members began playing at her games, and the FBI thinks the games became part of their overall criminal schemes. It turned out that the Russian gangsters playing at her games were only there for the sake of playing, not trying to muscle in or take over. The wiretaps referring to "Molly" that had the FBI agents so excited were talking about the party drug ecstasy, which is also known by the street name 'molly'.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Charlie refers to Molly's original lawyer Butterman as 'Butterball', and then as 'Butterbean'.
  • Mean Boss: Molly's initial boss (who gets her into the gambling scene) is a major asshole to her. She eventually gets back at him by cutting him out.
  • Meta Casting: Michael Cera plays "Player X," a Composite Character (In-Universe and Out) of a number of high profile celebrities who participated in the poker nights. Cera is probably the most recognizable face among the recurring players shown in the film, and ends up Playing Against Type as a smug asshole who turns on Molly.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: When she is starting her own game, Molly asks a lawyer if it's legal to run high-stakes poker games. He tells her yes, subject to certain conditions, but adds "Don't break the law while you're breaking the law." It will be easier for her to get away with running an illegal poker game if she isn't dealing drugs or prostitutes on the side.
  • Mistaken Ethnicity: Douglas assumes that Molly is Irish because she shares a name with a character from Ulysses.
  • Money Dumb: Of all the players who may lose fortunes at the poker table, Douglas Downey is the one who just loses money period. He won $190,000 at Molly's game one week and then couldn't cover an $80,000 loss the next week because he had so many debts he had to pay off in between.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Molly herself. It's Jessica Chastain, dolled up and wearing sexy outfits.
  • Named Like My Name: One of the reasons why the government assumed Molly was more involved in The Mafiya was references in their text messages saying "get molly" or "we need molly". 'Molly' is a street name for the drug ecstasy, not Molly Bloom.
  • Narrator: Molly narrates the whole film in voice-over.
  • Never a Self-Made Woman: Subverted. Though Molly's boss is the one who gets her into the gambling scene, she proves herself exceptionally capable of running things on her own, and even eclipses him at one point.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Player X is written as a composite of infamous poker players in Hollywood, specifically Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and others. Ironically he's played by the very famous celebrity Michael Cera, who the audience is initially led to believe is playing himself.
  • No Hugging, No Kissing: Molly deliberately avoids any romance with her customers at the poker games she runs, and the film is silent on the question of whether or not she has any romantic or sexual partners off-stage.
  • Not Like Other Girls: Multiple guests at the poker games profess their love for Molly, and it happens so often it becomes extremely frustrating to her. She finally breaks it down for Douglas Downey that they only like her because she is the "anti-wife": She encourages their gambling addictions, their drinking, and she has them served by beautiful women. It's not Molly that they fall in love with, it's the environment.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: It's unclear if Bad Brad was aware of how terrible he is at poker, but either way, he was more than happy to lose huge amounts of money at the table because he was making millions off the Ponzi scheme he was recruiting Molly's players into.
  • Papa Wolf: Larry tells Molly near the end that he's going to hire someone to kill the man who assaulted her in her apartment.
  • Parents as People: Larry Bloom was hard on her and Molly was difficult in return, which was not helped by Larry's affairs. They reconcile near the end of the story, as Larry confesses that she saw one of his earlier affairs before she understood what it meant and before it became known in the family, and that personal guilt made him act differently towards her.
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word: Charlie is reading Molly's book and comments that 'verticality' is not a real word. Molly insists that it is and ends up emailing him a link to it in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
  • Pistol-Whipping: The Mafia thug who assaults Molly in her apartment slams the side of her head with his pistol.
  • Ponzi: "Bad" Brad is running a Ponzi scheme and using Molly's game to recruit wealthy suckers into the scheme. It is Molly's unknowing involvement in the scheme that first brings her to the FBI's attention when Brad's scheme comes crashing down.
  • Precision F-Strike: At the beginning, while we see the skiing tournament where Molly would receive her Career-Ending Injury, she tells us the story of a survey where people were asked what they thought was the worst thing that could happen in sports, and one person answered finishing fourth at the Olympics. At the end of the opening segment, Molly comes back to this answer, and adds, "I wanted to say to the person who answered that the worst thing that could happen in sports was fourth place at the Olympics - seriously? Fuck you."
  • Psycho Psychologist: Downplayed, but Larry is exceptionally hard and borderline abusive with his daughter (and to his two sons) in pushing her to succeed, teaching her that "tired" is a synonym for "weak" and having her back skiing competitively within a year of her badly injuring her back and being told she should never ski again. So the fact that we learn twenty minutes in that he is a therapist and a Professor of Psychology pretty much makes him this as he should definitely know better than to raise his child in such a manner.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The judge is presented as one by Charlie. He's right — the judge realizes that the "crimes" Molly has committed are quite minor and gives her a very minimal sentence. Averted by the FBI and the government in general, who are effectively bullying Molly into giving away her clients' confidential information.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Shelly the Russian billionaire doesn't seem to understand why Molly is so worked up over him trying to put up a $7 million Monet painting as collateral.
  • Rule of Three: At the arraignment hearing, Charlie switches places with one of Molly's bodyguards three times; it's the answer Molly gives to him at this last time that convinces him to take her on as a client.
  • Sarcasm-Blind: Molly and Larry accuse each other of this.
    Larry: It's not a big deal, but from what I saw out there, I think you're having a small breakdown.
    Molly: That's weird. I can't think of why.
    Larry: I would think it was because of the arrest, and not knowing what's going to happen.
    Molly: Old man, do you really not understand sarcasm?
    Larry: (chuckling) Do you?
  • Sex for Services: Molly says one lawyer told her "money was his second favorite form of payment." Charlie knows the lawyer Molly means.
  • Shaped Like Itself: Butterman, the lawyer Molly consults with when she first starts running the game, tells her, "There's a saying in my business; don't break the law when you're breaking the law."
    Molly: What do you mean?
    Butterman: No drugs, no prostitutes, no muscle to collect debts.
    Molly: Oh, I don't do anything like that. But you just said I wasn't breaking the law.
    Butterman: Keep it that way, because you don't want to break the law when you're breaking the law.
    Molly: Am I breaking the law?
    Butterman: Not really.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Charles makes his daughter read The Crucible, and Molly later quotes from it.
    • Molly acknowledges that she shares a name with a character from Ulysses.
    • Douglas mangles "The Road Not Taken", to Molly's annoyance:
    Douglas: There's a poem...a famous...uh...a poem about thoughts left unexpressed. "Two roads emerged from the woods. Do they explode? I dunno." You like poetry?
    • Larry calls Molly Tiny Tim at one point.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: When two members of The Mafia try to muscle in on Molly's operation, she notes that they are clearly street thugs who are completely ill-suited to the martini bar where they are meeting. They're trying too hard to compensate and show that they aren't unused to these surroundings, and one of them even orders an appletini.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Molly and Charlie occasionally do this:
    Molly: (to Stella, after finding out the homework he's given her) Any time you want to run away from home, you can come live with me.
    Charlie: And then, when you discover she doesn't have a home, you can come back to me.
    Molly: (as Stella's leaving)...There's no law that says you can't just hit him in the head.
    Charlie: There is a law that says that; it's the first thing I taught her to read.
  • Sports Dad: Larry, again, though it's downplayed by Molly when she asks Charlie, "You know how many Olympic gold medal winners had overbearing fathers?" and then answers, "All of Them." That doesn't make her resent Larry any less.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: It's brought up that Molly was arrested by two dozen FBI agents armed with semi-automatic rifles for a comparatively benign crime. It was actually a negotiating tactic, to make her terrified of the severity of the accusation and fold easier.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: Molly reflects that people would ask her if she couldn't tell that the Russian players at her game were actually members of deadly, dangerous, and criminal organized crime. Thinking back on their friendly, jovial playing she directly states that no, there was no way for her to know.
  • Tough Love: Larry was very hard on Molly growing up, and it affects her all the way to adulthood.
  • The Unfavorite: Molly is Overshadowed by Awesome with her siblings being even more accomplished than she is, and had a rocky relationship with her father.
    • Her father denies that this is really the case; but he does acknowledge that it seemed that way, and even points out why.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Bad Brad, in order to make himself look better when he's arrested for running a Ponzi scheme, claims to the government that Molly essentially forced him into gambling addiction, when instead she actively tried to discourage him from playing given how bad he is. This results in Molly being named in the indictment and brings her to the attention of the FBI when it's pursuing The Mafiya.
  • A World Half Full: Molly's father decides to look on the bright side when comparing his children's achievements:
    Mr Bloom (paraphrased): One of my sons is an Olympic champion, my other son is a heart surgeon at a top hospital, and my daughter founded a multi-million dollar business.