Although it has earned some awards nods recently, “Molly’s Game” is not the most compelling movie of the year. Still, it’s a good bet for entertainment, particularly for audiences who enjoy stories about strategy, whether it applies to card games or life.

The film is based on the life of the real Molly Bloom, who wrote a memoir by the same name.

Jessica Chastain turns in another wonderful performance — not surprisingly — as Molly, who pursues a career as a skier and eventually becomes an Olympic-level contender. She is a highly disciplined athlete, thanks in part to the strict training from her father (Kevin Costner).

But after a devastating accident during the Winter Olympics trials, skiing no longer is in the cards, so to speak, for Molly. She has almost no means of support when she takes off and moves to Los Angeles, where she finds work with a sketchy, cranky fellow (Jeremy Strong) who runs weekly underground poker games.

Molly is a quick study. She educates herself about the game, from what poker players like to eat and the music they enjoy to how she can better assist her host.

In fact, Molly soon becomes a professional, and begins to run a game on her own, taking the atmosphere and clientele to new heights in Los Angeles and later New York. Her lavish, professional games draw the likes of movie stars (among them was Ben Affleck, although he is not depicted in the film) and other elite players.

She knows how to recruit and get the high-stakes gamblers that draw others of their ilk. Michael Cera plays one of these types who, among other “customers,” seems to have eyes for Molly.

Molly plays it cool. She refuses to become emotionally involved with her clients, and treats the players with respect and, in at least one instance, incredible patience.

But the demands on Molly grow along with the stakes at the table. She turns to drugs to ensure she can get by with little sleep. And eventually, Molly draws the attention of the criminal element and, eventually, federal agents.

In the latter part of the film, always-a-class-act Idris Elba is terrific as the savvy, skeptical attorney whom Molly tries to persuade to represent her. She faces possible prison time if she doesn’t come up with the information the authorities seek.

As a solid offering in a year filled with many other films based on true stories, this sheds light on a universe that probably isn’t familiar to many viewers. Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the enjoyable “Moneyball” and “The Social Network,” both based on true stories, wrote the screenplay and also directed this movie with smart dialogue and interesting characters.

“Molly’s Game” is a good deal.


Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Broadcast Film Critics Association member. College instructor for criminal justice, English and math. Serves on Safer Foundation and The Salvation Army advisory boards. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church