In 2013, a gal named Molly Bloom was arrested and charge with 33 others for money laundering, extortion, fraud and operating illegal poker rooms in New York City. It raised the eyebrows of a few you were familiar with the case because the poker games attracted some high rollers and famous celebrities. Her case was very similar to that of Sydney Barrows "Mayflower Madam"


About a year later she got off with a sentence of probation and 200 hours of community service. It would later be revealed that some of the celebs attending her games included Leonardo DiCaprio, Maculey Culkin, Ben Affleck, and Alex Rodriguez.


Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin makes his directorial debut with an adaptation of Molly Bloom's memoir, "Molly's Game. In the role of Molly he cast Jessica Chastain who will be looking for some award season recognition and may well get a couple of nominations to round out a limited field. She does a terrific job, especially since she appears in just about every scene.

Chastain serves double duty as both the film's narrator and the lead character. The film opens with her reflecting on her days as an elite Olympic free style skier and the crashes that moved her away from sports and to Los Angeles. Part of that push came from the disdain she had for her hard line father Larry (Kevin Kostner) who pushed and pushed her regardless of the circumstances.


While working as a waitress she gets invited to play hostess at an exclusive card game whose lead player is Player X (Michael Cera acting in place of real gamer Tobey Maguire). He has big friends with bog money and wants a weekly game.


Sorkin excels at developing these individual players and making the players more interesting than the game itself. So the poker scenes are not standard fair poker shots as much as a bunch of complex individuals playing a game of poker for some reason or other.

During those games, Molly becomes the engineer that keeps the game afloat with the finesse to keep the table packed with people willing to pay the price. While Cera's character is amusing it is Brian d'Arcy James' Brad character and Bill Camps' Harlan Eustice character that highlight the fact that Molly really didn't know that much about the players.


When things go awry in Los Angeles, she moves to New York and brings the game with her. Setting up the game is easy but she soon learns that New York is a completely different animal from Los Angeles. They have the Russian mob.


Molly is way over her head and winds up busted by the FBI and rolled up in a sweeping bust that lumped her in with the thugs. Too her rescue comes her attorney Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) who agrees to represent her. Here is when Sorkin exercises a lot of poetic license by turning Molly's real attorney Jim Walden from a white guy into Elba. Perhaps they are priming Elba to ultimately become the new James Bond!


The scenes with Elba and Chastain are merely adequate as Sorkin tries too hard to make Jaffey logically sympathetic. While it is nice to finely define Jaffey, Sorkin over-did it by adding Jaffey's daughter (played smartly by Whitney Peak). Fortunately Chastain's strong Molly characterization draws attention from the strange development of Jaffey.


Chastain once again is a vulnerable feminist who becomes a rock in the face of a man controlled environment, just like she did in "Zero Dark Thirty", "Lawless" and "Miss Sloane".


"Molly's Game" is a rock solid first effort by Aaron Sorkin. He takes what could have been a run-of-the-mill poker film and turned it into a compelling drama.   -- GEOFF BURTON