Molly’s Game came to big screen in January 2018 with a host of stars including Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Michael Cera, Kevin Costner and Brian d’Arcy James, telling the true story of Molly Bloom, whose skiing career is ended abruptly in a qualifying event for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Bloom runs the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game for Hollywood royalty, sports stars, business titans and the Russian mob until after ten years she is arrested in the middle of the night by 17 FBI agents wielding automatic weapons.
Produced by the Mark Gordon Company, it took $53.4 million at the US box office. However, this wasn’t a typical underworld gambling movie like all its predecessors, Molly’s Game truly broke the mould – here’s how.
For once we see a female protagonist in the underworld gambling movie genre. Where normally an attractive female is used solely for seduction purposes or indeed as the prize of the great game of poker, Chastain (Molly) successfully plays the role of risk-taker and entrepreneur. When her boss tries to cut her out of the poker game, Molly takes his celebrity contact list and establishes a higher staked, rival poker table. Although they are clear to point out that many of the big names who follow her do so because a top celeb makes the switch, it is also highlighted that Molly knows exactly what she’s doing.
However, for all of the ground breaking above, we do see a great deal of familiar plot lines and characters within Molly’s Game. Glamour and gambling have been joined together before in other underworld gambling movies. Similarly we have seen celebrities and high-profile characters attracted to the shady world of gambling in the likes of Casino Royale, part of the James Bond series. Russian mob involvement is again nothing new, for instance in the 1998 movie Rounders, Matt Damon’s character risks his entire $30,000 bankroll while playing Texas hold ‘em at a Russian mob run underground poker room.
Relationships with parents, particularly the father-son/father-daughter narrative is also explored here. Her father, a demanding psychologist played by Kevin Costner is there to provide the rational direction to his emotional and ambitious daughter. Costner comes across in a cold, unamused manner but with the good of his daughter at heart.
We’ve seen this in the early scenes of Boiler Room in which a Judge has to extricate his own son out of running an underground poker game – the next half of the film is dedicated to Seth (the son) trying to earn an honest living to prove himself to his father. Although he soon ends up at an un-ethical brokerage firm, and for all the drugs, booze and sex, the constant thread throughout is the father-son relationship. Like in Molly’s Game, the father exists initially to be rebelled against but as a controlling influence which no matter where life takes, you can’t shake off his shadow.
And what would a gambling movie be without the FBI sniffing around and moving in at the opportune moment? As in Casino, FBI informants and wires are all the rage, gradually increasing their presence until the raid. Following the raid and investigations we then see the deal being cut – as in the majority of Hollywood blockbusters, we couldn’t have the main character facing a life behind bars. Surprisingly, in Molly’s case she refuses the deal and pleads guilty to protect the identities of the celebrity players – however the judge sentences her to no jail time, giving her community service, probation and a fine of $200,000.
We spoke to Emily from casino website CasumoBonus.com who gave her take on the movie: “It’s probably the best gambling / poker movie in years. We’ve had some high profile flops recently like The Gambler (Mark Wahlberg), but also some successes like Mississippi Grind (Ryan Reynolds). Molly’s Game is made even more entertaining by the fact that it’s a true story involving real celebrities.”
Molly’s Game was certainly a product of its time and with the female protagonist challenged the status quo of how a traditional underground gambling movie should be put together. However, it was wise not to throw out all traditions. A brief Google search proves the longevity and popularity of the genre – similar to sci-fi thrillers, political conspiracies and real-life war depictions, gambling movies, particularly with a focus on the underground will always be able to pull in the big name actors and the big numbers at the Box Office.