It’s impossible to watch Molly’s Game — Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, which just premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival — and not wonder who the real life celebrities are that are all given phony names for the purposes of this movie. And we’re told right away this is happening: In this true story, Jessica Chastain plays Molly Bloom, who ran arguably the most influential poker games in Los Angeles, and during an early voiceover, we’re told that the names, other than hers, have all been changed for obvious reasons.
The film opens with Bloom attempting to qualify for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in freestyle skiing, but a freak accident on a qualifying run ends her career. In the next scene, many years later, she’s being arrested by the FBI in a massive sweep that also involves Russian mobsters with whom Bloom had indirect dealings. It’s a startling shift from Olympic hero to alleged crime lord. The rest of Molly’s Game fills in what happened in-between and immediately after — often using Molly’s meetings with her attorney (Idris Elba, who gets one big “Oscar” scene near the end of the film) to tell the story of how all this even happened.
After Molly’s injury, she worked odd jobs, and one included being an assistant to a has-been, jerk-off celebrity named Dean (Jeremy Dean), who often uses racial slurs and who desperately wants to maintain the illusion he’s doing well. It’s Dean who taps Molly to run his celebrity poker game — a game she runs well, making extremely profitable tips in the process. (Who is Dean in real life? I have no clue, but I now desperately want to know. Whoever he is, he is not portrayed in a, let’s say, positive light.)
The real-life identity of one player is pretty easy to figure out if you’ve ever followed Bloom’s story. Michael Cera plays Player X, who is pretty obviously based, at least loosely, on Tobey Maguire. Player X is extremely good at poker and an intimidating force to reckon with as an opponent. When Molly steals the game away from Dean, Player X goes with Molly. And wherever Player X went, everyone else would follow. (Honestly, Player X does come off as an ass sometimes, but I could see a scenario where Maguire watches this movie and is flattered.)
Another interesting aspect of Molly’s Game is how Molly flirts with the wrong side of the law, but never goes over that line (until she does, which is what lands her in such hot water). For the most part, her game is legal as long has she doesn’t take a percentage of the pot. When she meets with a lawyer early in her poker career, she’s told, “It’s best not to break the law while you’re breaking the law.”