Review of reviews: Film
Directed by Aaron Sorkin (R)
An unlikely poker queen faces a reckoning.
In his first outing as a director, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has produced a “cool, crackling” true-life crime drama that “appeals to your intelligence instead of insulting it,” said Chris Nashawaty in Entertainment Weekly. Jessica Chastain plays Molly Bloom, a former Olympic-class skier who in her mid-20s made millions running a high-stakes underground poker game for Hollywood celebrities, and the role gives the actress “easily the best showcase she’s had since Zero Dark Thirty.” Chastain’s Bloom proves smart, driven, and guarded, and the fizzy dialogue Sorkin has written for the character feels “perfectly suited to both her whirring intelligence and elastic ethics.” Idris Elba plays the lawyer Bloom hires when the FBI comes after her, and he’s “a godsend” in a role that requires him to match Chastain in high-speed banter, said Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune. But while the story of Bloom’s rise, told in flashback, has an edgy rhythm, Sorkin’s writing becomes “a little less artful” in the film’s second hour, as he tries to pin her downfall on lingering daddy issues. “Still, Molly’s Game is worth the ante,” said Ann Hornaday in The Washington Post. It’s real grownup entertainment, featuring Chastain at the top of her “icily self-controlled” game.
Directed by Craig Gillespie (R)
A figure-skating villain has her say.
“Who would have ever imagined Tonya Harding as the subject of a great movie?” asked Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. In 1994, America turned on the feisty figure skater when an assailant kneecapped her chief rival ahead of the national championships and Harding was linked to the attack. Playing Harding here as a foulmouthed chain-smoker, Margot Robbie “does emotionally true, unsentimental work” that presents the fallen star as a blue-collar scrapper who was perpetually an outsider in the sport she chose. Harding’s ex-husband went to prison for planning the attack on eventual silver medalist Nancy Kerrigan, and while I, Tonya doesn’t exactly absolve Harding, it makes her a figure deserving of sympathy, said David Edelstein in NYMag.com. We witness how she was abused by both her ex and her mom, a cruel woman played to “howling effect” by Allison Janney. There’s dark comedy in the antics of that entourage, but jocularity and black eyes don’t really mix well. Despite its fast, funny edge, the movie also has a serious point to make, said Stephen Whitty in the New York Daily News. “It proves there’s a real human being behind every headline.”
Directed by Scott Cooper (R)
Sworn enemies cross the Wild West as allies.
Scott Cooper’s stately yet brutal new Western seems less interested in saying something new than “reiterating something old, only this time with a much deeper voice,” said David Ehrlich in IndieWire.com. Because the director wants to remind us that violence and hatred sit at the root of America’s story, he dials up both the viciousness and the pregnant pauses between lines of dialogue. “The Wild West has never looked more beautiful, or been more foreboding,” but not until halfway through does the movie find a unique story to tell. Christian Bale does well with a nearly impossible role, said Danny King in The Village Voice. Playing a hate-filled U.S. Army captain who in 1892 is tasked with escorting a former battlefield foe back to his distant Cheyenne homeland, Bale has to be half monster and half valiant knight. In the lighter moments between fighting off attackers, the Oscar winner occasionally brings relief to the “nearly unremitting aura of brooding seriousness.” Yet “what makes the movie interesting,” said A.O. Scott in The New York Times, is “the sincerity and intelligence” with which it pursues an impossible task of its own. It wants to be “not so much a new kind of Western as every possible kind”—vintage and revisionist included.