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Molly’s Game movie review

First, 140 minutes. Two hours 20 minutes. Tighten it up, Aaron. Sheesh. Thirty-eight minutes longer than Casablanca. Twenty-one minutes longer than Citizen Kane. A long time to sit even in a relatively comfortable seat.

I like Sorkin [1]. Sue me. I like Mamet. I have no problem with their respective distinctive dialogs. Like Shakespeare [2], once your ear adjusts, it’s okay. It’s smart. The contrived dialogue makes you think. Everyone talks the same way, with the same patterns. So what are they saying?

I was okay with the movie when I was watching it. I enjoyed it, sitting there, even though my butt got numb [3]. Lots of the sort of actors I like, smart actors saying smart things [4]. But the dumbness of the movie! I’m supposed to believe that this woman was smart enough to run a multi-million dollar legal game, and not know that the guys from the Brighton Beach game with no-visible-means-of-support she invited to her game didn’t have ties to the Russian mob? That her hostesses might not be paragons of virtue with all that money and celebrity strutting around? That her clients weren’t calling their moms to talk about the spread on the Mets games? To not think about what happens when some big talker can’t pay up? To be smart enough to put in cameras, but not wonder if someone was listening to her?

To go to a lawyer to pay for very good advice – “Don’t do something illegal when you are doing something illegal”, then not follow it?

To not know that eventually the Mob would show up, and not understand that it wasn’t a request?

To not understand that someone could take the game away from her as easily as she took it from the guy she stole it from, and in the same manner, and not take measures to prevent it?

You don’t get to have the main character claim to be smart enough to run rings around the rich guys and the made guys and the lawyers, then be stupid enough to get taken by the mob, the feds, and an actor.

She basically got off because she’s a pretty white woman. Or that’s the story I’m left with. Not because she’s smart, or has integrity, but because she’s got privilege out the wazoo, as her dad points out explicitly in his last contrived scene.

Is it too much to ask for smart people to be smart? See Sicario. Or is this just another mirror to reality, and most people are smart about some things, dumb about others? Maybe movies don’t get made about the truly smart people who don’t get caught, who see all the angles. Those movies just aren’t interesting.

In both Sicario and Molly’s Game, someone tells the protagonist exactly the right thing, and in both, the protagonist has to learn the hard way.

Maybe we all have to learn the hard way.

They got the poker right, which was nice. Mostly [5]. Except for her just starting to take a rake without telling anyone. Since that skews the betting, I’m pretty sure there would be at least a comment or two among the players once the pot started getting smaller. Nope, she just starts wetting her beak without telling anyone, and all the sharp guys are just okay with that. It doesn’t even really help – she takes two percent out of a two million dollar pot, which won’t even begin to cover her should one of the guys in that pot walk away. They make it like it’s a big deal, she’s okay, when the rake is the long game, and it’ll take her a couple of years at that rate to cover her losses. Works for casinos, but not for her. That’s also what got her busted.


TL;DR: Good actors in a fast movie that works as long as you don’t think about it too much. Which is a problem for a movie that wants you to think it’s smart.


[1] mostly – see Newsroom for a counter example, or Redbelt.

[2] Not to compare either of these guys to Shakespeare.

[3] And I had to ask the guy in front of me to stop texting two hours in. Who can blame him.

[4] It’s when they get too smart…

[5] Though I’ve spent more time in the $1/$2 Commerce Casino game than in the high-stakes games. Which is to say, none.