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January 03, 2018

Jessica Chastain reigns in magnificent 'Molly's Game'

Review: Aaron Sorkin's high-stakes poker drama follows the true story of Molly Bloom and her elite underground operation

At the beginning of the decade, Jessica Chastain laid claim to being one of the best actresses in Hollywood following award-winning, popular turns in "Zero Dark Thirty" and "The Help."

Having just turned 40, some were questioning whether Chastain was a true "star" after her last two films, "Miss Sloane" and "The Zookeeper's Wife" made a paltry $20 million combined during their domestic runs.

However, her portrayal of real-life Molly Bloom in "Molly's Game" should put those doubts to rest. This is an incredible, magnificent, magnetic performance that takes an excellent script by Aaron Sorkin (adapted from a book of the same name by Bloom) and elevates it to something extraordinary and special.

"Molly's Game" is the true story of Bloom, a beautiful, young, Olympic-class skier who ran the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker game for a decade. The film begins with here being arrested in the middle of the night by 17 FBI agents wielding automatic weapons. While I usually hate films that open in such a non-linear fashion, here, it works, because it is the journey to how Chastain's Bloom got to that point that is the most engrossing.

After a short time developed to young Molly, we see how her demanding father (Kevin Costner) breaks her spirit and how a freak accident on the slopes breaks her back.

What follows is a fascinating journey through which Bloom works as a secretary, helps run a secret poker game and then winds up running her own game. Her players included Hollywood royalty, sports stars, business titans and finally, unbeknown to her, the Russian mob. Her only ally was her criminal defense lawyer, Charlie Jaffey, (Idris Elba) who learned there was much more to Molly than the tabloids led people to believe.

Jaffey helps us learn why someone as driven as Bloom, who could have been anything from superstar model to high-powered lawyer, given her looks, brains and drive, chose the glamorous-yet-dangerous life of running high-stakes poker games. The answer carries a wallop.

Sorkin's pace and dialogue for "Game" is brilliant. Some scenes look like they could be in a top sports movie, others in a top mob movie and the poker scenes rival any in "Casino" or various Bond movies. He pulls all these disparate elements to create an incredibly satisfying picture that is fresh and unique.

And Michael Cera gives his best performance to date as a quiet actor that surprises you.

Costner is great here, and Elba offers some powerful dialogue as well, but make no mistake – this is Chastain's movie.

Chastain's Bloom is sharp, yet shy, strong yet vulnerable, imbued with both a killer instinct and compassion and experiences Olympian highs and Atlantean depths. She is also sexy as hell.

This is the performance of Chastain's career. Her formidable challenge – her next game – will be in topping it.

Grade: A