Stars: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner
Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, based on Molly Bloom’s memoir, sees the writer returning to his favoured subject: high-performing but flawed visionaries. Chastain is Bloom, the beautiful Olympic-level championship skier who, after a one-in-a-million accident, relocates to Los Angeles. While working as a PA for an obnoxious boss she discovers his sideline in organising poker games for various high-rollers, Hollywood stars, high-ranking politicians and the like. Quick to learn, she soon establishes her own high-stakes exclusive games, relocating to New York. Inevitably, the Mob and the Russians get involved, demanding their own slice of the action, forcing Bloom to take some risky shortcuts. When she is arrested and taken to FBI headquarters for questioning, she turns to successful criminal defence lawyer Charlie Jaffrey (Elba) for help. The voiceover, breathlessly propulsive pacing, and jittery jump cutting evidences the clear influence of Scorsese’s Goodfellas. But while Chastain delivers a powerhouse performance, the picture also sees Sorkin’s worst instincts coming to the fore, the dialogue riddled with speechifying and factoid-dropping. There’s also something a little reductive about making daddy issues the focus of both of the main characters. When Molly congratulates Jaffrey on encouraging his daughter to read books, it feels like Sorkin at his most self-congratulatory and pedagogic. And in that curious American tradition, Molly’s tawdry, materialist odyssey is ultimately presented as some sort of rich learning process on the character’s journey to self-discovery.