Movie Review: Molly’s Game

The storyline is a compelling one: an Olympic-class skier runs an exclusive, high-stakes poker game for a decade before being arrested by seventeen FBI agents wielding automatic weapons. Insert Oscar-winning actress Jessica Chastain in the leading role and screenwriter-turned-director Aaron Sorkin at the helm and the movie becomes even more mesmerizing.

After suffering a devastating injury on the slopes, Molly Bloom, an Olympic hopeful, walks away from her small-town life and her father’s unrealistic expectations. Hoping to soak in the sun and have fun in Los Angeles, Molly ends up working as a personal assistant for an abusive employer (Jeremy Strong), who puts Molly in charge of organizing a weekly, back-room poker game populated by A-list actors, politicians, millionaires, and billionaires.

Under Molly’s supervision, the game grows exponentially as she adds more exclusive trappings: a suite in a luxury hotel, gourmet food, and expensive liquor. She also increases the buy-in, ensuring that she’ll make more in tips. In a recent interview, Molly revealed that her income in 2009 was over $4 million.

A run-in with Player X (Michael Cera) forces Molly to take her game to New York. There, she increases the buy-in to $250,000. While the clientele is still high-end, the game also attracts wealthy Russian gangsters who want a piece of the action. About this time, the FBI becomes very interested in Molly’s game.

Nominated for a Golden Globe, Jessica Chastain also deserves an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of this strong but deeply flawed woman. Her voice-over throughout the film skillfully anchors all the events from an early accident at age twelve to the handcuff scene to conversations in her lawyer’s office.

The supporting cast of male characters delivers award-winning performances. I was impressed by Idris Elba’s portrayal of Charlie Jaffey, the lawyer with scruples, who takes Molly’s case even though she’s broke and facing jail time.

Kevin Costner delivers an excellent performance as the hard-driving sports father and psychologist, who demanded academic and athletic excellence from his children. The skating rink scene provides a glimpse into his softer “dad” side.

Molly’s Game is more than just another poker movie. In fact, the Poker Princess aka Molly Bloom doesn’t even play the game.

A must-see film!

Movie Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife

Based on the bestselling book by Diane Ackerman, this movie chronicles the efforts of Antonina Zabinski, brilliantly played by Jessica Chastain, and her husband Dr. Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh) to save 300 Jews during WWII. They ran a covert operation in which Jews were smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto and into their basement hideout, where they were hidden in cages and tunnels. Later, they were transported to safety.

While Dr. Zabinski fits the profile of a classic resistance fighter, Antonina demonstrates a different kind of heroism. Each day, she had to ensure the German soldiers surrounding the zoo didn’t suspect their operation. She was also forced to cultivate an uneasy relationship with Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), the chief zoologist for the Nazi regime.

Antonina took her rescuer role several steps further, helping her guests survive emotionally, with their dignity intact. Each evening, after the soldiers left the zoo, she would sneak them into the house for piano concerts, dinner, and conversation.

Jessica Chastain delivers an Oscar-worthy performance, capturing the essence of Antonina—from her Polish accent to her intuitiveness. Some of my favorite scenes involve Antonina interacting with the animals: nursing lion cubs and bicycling alongside a young camel.

Director Niki Caro and cinematographer Andrij Parekh have succeeded in recreating the authenticity of the period, meticulously attending to all details from the bombings to the ghetto conditions to the effects of war on the zoo animals.

A must-see film!