Toronto International Film Festival

In praise of convicted poker queen's game

Writer-director Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut, crime drama Molly's Game, stars actress Jessica Chastain as the former Olympic skier Molly Bloom. The work premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Writer-director Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut, crime drama Molly's Game, stars actress Jessica Chastain as the former Olympic skier Molly Bloom. The work premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Meeting ex-Olympic skier Molly Bloom, who withheld names of her big poker clients despite facing trial, moved Aaron Sorkin to make the film, Molly's Game

TORONTO • When the chips were down, a court defendant did not gamble on getting away scot-free by naming names.

That is why Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is in praise of a convicted poker queen for taking the moral high ground in his directorial debut Molly's Game, which premiered last Saturday at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The crime drama stars Jessica Chastain as former Olympic skier Molly Bloom, who went on to run one of the largest underground high-stakes poker games in the United States.

Her games at their peak required a US$250,000 buy-in and attracted some of Hollywood and New York's elite - as well as mobsters - but she withheld most of their names in her memoir.

The film follows suit, though the identities of some of her regulars have emerged, including several who were arrested.

"We live in a time when people sell each other out," Sorkin said.

"Molly (had) no sense at all she was going to do something heroic, it just came naturally to her not to do the wrong thing," he noted.

The film also features Kevin Costner as Molly's hard-nosed father and Idris Elba as the attorney who defended her in court.

The film was shot in Toronto.

Bloom, who is banned from Canada because she pleaded guilty to a federal crime in the US, was granted special permission to enter the country in order to attend the film's premiere.

"For two years, Hollywood had been chasing Molly's story because there are a lot of shiny objects in there - the poker, the women, the tons of money, the powerful men," Sorkin commented.

His movie renounces glamour and salaciousness in favour of trying to help audiences understand this complex woman.

"I have no visual sensibility at all. I hear movies more than see them," he explained.

"There's a tremendous amount of language in these scenes.

"I'm always most comfortable as a writer inside four walls. I like just writing people talking in rooms."

One of the hardest challenges in making this film, he said, was trying to make poker interesting.

"I needed poker to look exciting and it's not," he said. "It's the world's worst spectator sport."

He was moved to make a film after meeting Bloom in person.

He described her as a woman "in deep, deep trouble" after her arrest with no prospects at age 39, for a run-in with "an illegal poker game from a really long time and pleading guilty in federal court in a mob indictment".

Sorkin is perhaps best known for his work on hit television series The West Wing.

Asked how he might change the political drama to suit the current climate, he answered: "Not a thing."

"I would do the exact same show where we get to see and hear what it looks and sounds like when well- intentioned, thoughtful people - with whom we may have differences of opinion, but whose intentions are unimpeachable - are working hard and are dedicated to public service," he said.

He said the idea behind the series, which ran from 1999 to 2006, was to "show a very highly competent group of people who may slip on banana peels from time to time, but who we understand are waking up every morning with our best interests in mind and who are hyper competent".

"So I would just keep doing that and once a week, we'd hear what a press conference should sound like," he said, seemingly alluding to US President Donald Trump's mercurial tendencies at the podium.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2017, with the headline 'In praise of convicted poker queen's game'. Print Edition | Subscribe