Watched: 31 January

I think there’s almost (almost!) a very good film here, but Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut – about high-stakes poker game organiser Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) – is really let down by a cliché-riven final act reconciliation between Molly and her father (despite the excellent supporting turn by Kevin Costner) and a rather cheesy, dismally-soundtracked finale that attempts to establish the character of Bloom as a tough survivor when it’s really no longer necessary to do so, or necessary to attempt to steer the audience so blatantly into sympathising with her. Pretty much everything else I liked, though: Chastain is very good in the lead role (Chastain is always good in the lead role), playing a determined, intelligent figure whose drive and questionable morality with regard to business (we’re very much dealing with shades of grey here) means she’s similar in many ways to other recent Sorkin subjects like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, and also similar to her own Miss Sloane character from 2017; Idris Elba impresses as her lawyer (lotsa long, impassioned, typically verbose discussions between the two and courtroom scenes pepper the film after Bloom is indicted); Michael Cera is suitably oily as a poker-playing Hollywood celeb (possibly based on Tobey Maguire, who once reportedly asked Bloom to bark like a seal for a $1,000 poker chip, but also possibly a composite of the various big name actors who populated Bloom’s games); the voiceover narration works really well; and there’s a slickness to the way that the poker scenes are handled (games and participants’ abilities, personalities and playing styles are succinctly and clearly explained, never in a patronising fashion) that I very much enjoyed. There’s enough here to suggest that Sorkin will be every bit as successful as a writer-director as he has been to date as a writer, despite the mid-steps of the last act; his screenplays are not everyone’s cup of tea, granted, but I haven’t grown tired of his style yet. (***½)